The room is dark, but our eyes gradually adjust to the darkness. A woman lies in bed, asleep. A young, beautiful woman: Mari's sister, Eri. Eri Asai. We know this without having been told so by anyone. Her black hair cascades across the pillow like a flood of dark water.
We allow ourselves to become a single point of view, and we observe her for a time.
Haruki Murakami's most recent translated novel is short, dark and gloomy. It takes place on a seemingly ordinary night in Tokyo. Characters from different walks of life step into the picture, meet each other or intersect somewhere among the mysteries of a single night.
A young Japanese student, Mari, does not feel like going home and is sitting in an all-night diner reading a book. Takahashi, a talkative trombone player who is strangely fascinated by Mari's elder sister Eri, comes to sit at her table. After he leaves, Mari is interrupted again by Kaoru, a former wrestler, who is now the manager of the Alphaville love hotel. A Chinese prostitute has just been beaten up by a male customer and Mari's interpretation skills are needed.
At the same time, Mari's beautiful sister Eri is sleeping a coma-like sleep that she does not want to wake from. A picture of some kind begins to flicker on the TV screen in Eri's room, even though the plug has been pulled out of the wall. When strange things begin to occur, the narrator remains an outside observer, a spectator who is just as bewildered as the reader.
The novel is classic Murakami in its tiny little details, its clear narration and snappy dialogue tinged with philosophical debates. The themes are familiar as well: characters are alienated and lonely, identities are divided and people exist in parallel places at the same time. The only thing that is moving steadily, surely and logically is the time on the clock, ticking the night away.
Haruki Murakami: After Dark. Vintage. 2008. 201 pages.
Originally published in Japanese as Afuta daku
Translated by Jay Rubin
NY Times: "In the Wee Small Hours"
Wikipedia: After Dark
Wikipedia: Haruki Murakami