Sunday, February 24, 2008

“After Dark” by Haruki Murakami

"After Dark" is probably the easiest Murakami novel to read.

At 201 pages, it's not difficult to finish in one session.

It's also close to what you would call "high concept" in the film industry.

Its execution is not much more than its conception.

All of the action takes place from 11:56pm to 6:52am on a midwinter night, more or less "after dark" when the days are shortest and the nights are longest.

Murakami's writing is stripped back, simple, present tense, in the style of detective fiction, yet there is always a sense of deeper meaning, even if it is or remains hidden.

We see the surface, almost like a camera, but we know there is something behind it, even if he doesn't choose or have to describe it.

"Darkness" is an extended metaphor throughout the entire novel.

At the most superficial level, it describes the night.

However, it also represents the darkness of the human soul.

This level of meaning is most likely to resonate with its likely audience – youth in their teens or early twenties who are still trying to piece together some sense of the meaning of life and how they fit into it.

Before people developed the technology to build houses, they huddled together in caves at night, primarily to escape their predators, but also to share their collective warmth.

Darkness then created a sense of family, if not society as well.

Language as a form of communication probably developed during these hours of darkness, when there was little else to do.

Now that we can build accommodation, we create smaller scale, more individualised caves where we can live alone and lonely.

What was once a source of comfort has become a source of alienation.

This spiritual or anti-spiritual life of buildings in Murakami's fiction has been coming for some time.

The homes, office blocks, cafes, bars and hotels in his novels take on a life of their own. They are characters with their own mysteries that embrace and surround the human characters. They're almost microcosms with their own cosmic significance.
Inside these buildings, we can be easily lured away from interaction with other humans, even the members of our own family.

Mari and her beautiful sister, Eri, are two sides of the one coin (their names are only one syllable apart) that have lost touch with each other.

Eri is at home sleeping a deep sleep that is "too perfect, too pure" and has lasted for two months.

Late in the book, we learn that they once embraced each other for protection in a lift while it remained trapped in darkness in a blackout. Spiritually, it was the closest they ever came to each other, a return to the comfort of the cave.

Since then, they have drifted apart for no discernible reason.

Metaphorically, they have lost touch, but it's almost as if it is important that they have literally lost touch as well.

Although Eri never fully regains consciousness during the span of the novel, their reconciliation and sense of wholeness begin when Mari learns to open up personally over the course of meetings with strangers during the night and decides to sleep in Eri's bed, holding her close under the sheets, just as the sun starts to rise and the darkness starts to dissipate.

In Murakami's concluding words, "this hint of things to come takes time to expand in the new morning light, and we attempt to watch it unobtrusively, with deep concentration. The night has begun to open up at last."

Throughout the night, we have watched two flowers start to blossom…or, more likely, two shrubs about to re-blossom.

In a sense, they have emerged from the dark and into the light. They are literally "after dark" or post-darkness.

There is a suggestion of a recurring cycle at work here too. Just as day follows night, night follows day.

Murakami's very last words are that the hint of things to come will continue to expand in the light, at least "until the next darkness arrives".

This might just mean that we will retreat to our caves at night, pending a new sunrise.

But it could also mean that, all through our lives, we have to deal with darkness and depression, but we have to remember that there will be a new sunrise, especially if we make it happen ourselves.

Someone has suggested that this novel could be the first in a trilogy based around these characters.

There are a myriad of questions that the detective in the reader wants to find answers for.

On the other hand, the metaphorical significance of the novel and its title is complete in one volume.

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