I’m feeling rather proud of myself at the moment. After many many years of being intimidated, I’ve finally broken in to the massive Murakami fan-club. I tried before, and got ‘Norwegian Wood’ out of the library, but the book just sat on my shelf making me feel guilty until it was nearly over-due without having being opened. This time I thought I’d be smarter and deliberately chose the shortest volume the library had on offer.
Fortunately, ‘After Dark’ isn’t just short, it’s also beautiful and powerful. Set during one night, it is a modern fairy-tale complete with mystery and possible magic. The story begins near midnight at an all-night diner. A young woman is reading alone in determined but apparently self-sufficient isolation. A chance meeting with a young man whom she’s met once before leads to a one-sided conversation and, subsequently, enounters with a host of night-time characters. It’s an urban novel, but only deals with the sides of the city that never sleep. Once Mari puts down her book, she is guided through a world of criminals and victims; the quest is meandering and inconclusive, but pregnant with forboding.
Mari, however, is only one side of the story. She says ‘in our house, we had the delicate Snow White and the hardy shepherd girl.‘ The Snow White is her beautiful sister Eri, but it is apparent that Eri is actually living out a very different fairy tale. The narrative of the action packed city night-world is intersperced with tableaux of Eri’s bedroom where, we’re told, ‘she’s in a really deep sleep…she doesn’t want to wake up‘. Our view of Eri is explicitly voyeuristic and creapily surreal. She has her own night-time adventures, but, unmediated by conversation or exposition, they remain evocatively ambiguous.
Ultimately, this book reads like a modern, urban fairy-tale, with all of the darkness, cruelty and love that goes with this. The male characters are important, but not central, if this was a Disney, it would be ‘Frozen’ rather than ‘Snow White’, but it really isn’t Disney at all, it’s far more complex and primal. Overall, it has been a wonderful introduction to Murakami and I can’t wait to read more from his no-longer-so-overwhelming oeuvre.