A city can breathe, it feels, it pulses in tune with its flashing ‘sea of neon colours’, it provides homes for the homeless, love for the loveless, it endlessly craves attention and intimacy, it reverberates the meandering thoughts of all its children. A city is essentially ‘a gigantic creature’ and Murakami preaches this like no other.
The book takes the audience on a journey through the night time streets of Tokyo. 19 year old Mari Asai, the central protagonist of the story, roams the streets alone. She is approached by a familiar face, Takahashi, who was a friend of her sister, Eri Asai. As the story progresses, Mari finds herself at the epicentre of a brutal attack in one of Tokyo’s most infamous love hotels, Alphaville. Meanwhile, her sister, who has taken to an unnaturally long sleep, is haunted by a mysteriously over active television and an enigmatic figure with no face.
Murakami, in the running for a Nobel Prize in literature, is an extremely successful Japanese writer who catapulted himself to fame when he wrote Norwegian Wood, a hugely popular novel of his. Murakami adopts his own particular leitmotif which he uses as a heraldry – he incorporated themes and ideas through many pieces of his work, such as his fondness for cats. His ambiguity in his books hugely encouraged his success, as he took the opportunity to perform outside of the Japanese literary conventions.
In this particular book, After Dark, Murakami immediately draws in the audience by establishing a unity – we are one with Murakami. We know what he knows, we do what he does. He uses a 2nd person perspective to effectively create this unity and this one of the many reasons why I think this book is so special; not many writers can incorporate the audience as part of the story, Murakami can.
The majority of the book is written as if Murakami and us are a camera, capturing what is happening in this world, changing angles and shot types; close ups, long shots. We are not physically there, but we almost are. ‘We allow ourselves to become a single point of view.’
The book has no particular motif, the plot itself remains vague and almost unfinished; but that is what makes this story so beautiful. Instead of focusing on narrative and scheme, Murakami weaves lessons and morals into this story, valuable lessons that are so much more beneficial and thought-provoking than a conventional, single-stranded, wholesome narrative.
One lesson that he acknowledges, is the way in which people need other people, we need compassion, love and company. ‘In this world there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with someone else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount.’ As much as loneliness can be bliss, too much can cause an imbalance in our lives, I truly believe that a fair balance needs to be established in order to experience life joyfully and to its full capacity.
‘It’s not as if our lives are divided into light and dark. There’s a shadowy middle ground’ where the light does not quite reach but the darkness does not quite engulf. The city still carries on as it if the light and dark are not there, it still breathes, still feels, still provides a ‘continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old.’