After Dark offers me the longest stretch of time I have spent sat in Denny’s just to stare out the window and drink coffee.
It is a book by Japanese author Haruki Murakami originally published in 2004. He is a highly distinguished writer both inside of Japan and outside meaning there must be an audience for his work somewhere. In fact, his audience must be vast as he was originally 4/1 favourite to win a Nobel Prize of literature in 2016.
The plot is indeed good when you find it, the only issue is actually finding it and if it even holds any real relevance at all. The story is following Tokyo once the trains have stopped running, our characters are a 19-year-old student named Mari Asai, who coincidently crosses paths with Takahashi Tetsuya a trombone-player, a retired female wrestler named Kaoru, and a Chinese prostitute. Meanwhile, her sister, Eri, does what people usually do during the night and just sleeps. Honestly, as interesting as that sounds on paper you could realistically cut it in its entirety and the novel would really not be losing much.
Murakami has a signature feeling of alienation but personally I prefer my alienation in theatre plays. One theatre production in particular is Berkoff’s Metamorphosis which is an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Franz Kafka. Similar to Murakami being known for alienation Berkoff is known for the verfremdungseffekt as a performance technique in his work. Berkoff is centred on visuals and framing his plays in a way that distances audiences. Unlike Murakami he does not do this in a way that leaves his plot obsolete, taking Metamophis the play would not exist without its plot of Gregor being turned into a beetle, but, Murakami’s work could just as easily exist as a series of descriptions of places that look strange. Don’t believe me? After Dark starts with three pages describing Mari drinking coffee in Denny’s and that is pretty much a summary of the kind of things you can expect from this novel.
Perhaps the most glaring issue I have with After Dark is the most interesting thing about it is the way it is written. It is described in one review for The Millions as “in first person plural, complete with metafictional references to points of view and what seem to be camera directions. The end result could be pitched as Eraserhead (IMDb) meets Before Sunrise (IMDb).” While this style is indeed original and unique it is not enough points of interest to hold up a novel. Additionally, as that reviewer describes, it gives a sense of the novel being more of an unfinished screenplay more than anything else.
A possible reason behind the issues in this novel is likely a lack of focus on Murakami’s part. During an interview he stated himself “when I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come.” This sort of writing process creates a very unpolished undertone to Murakami’s work. It leads to half dimensional characters aimlessly existing until something coincidently happens around them. It leads to endless small talk as plot driven conversation cannot happen in a plot that has not yet been created.
Perhaps again this is just a case of a style made for someone else. I am sure this surrealist style is good for someone that someone is simply not me. I prefer my novels carefully planned. I prefer to be able to re-read and find the foreshadowing. I prefer to be taken by surprise for things hinted at the very start. I don’t want to sit in Denny’s and drink coffee until a woman comes and tell me what to do.