This blog hasn't been very kind to Haruki Murakami. First off, there was Justin's negative review of THE ELEPHANT VANISHES, and then, there were my own gripes with THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, which ultimately led to our 'seminal' HARUKI MURAKAMI IS WRONG! entry written last October.
There used to be so much hate for Murakami here that this blog could've easily been mistaken for an anti-Murakami site.
More than a year had passed since then, I picked up and read AFTER DARK, my first Murakami book since Norwegian Woods (finished that sometime around the middle of last year, liked it) at Borders, The Curve after a production meeting. Being merely a 200-page-long novella, I finished it in one sitting, around 2 hours.
AFTER DARK was recommended to me by my former teacher in Murdoch Uni, Melanie Rodriga, when I paid her a visit last month in Perth. I was telling her about my writer's block, and she suggested to me that I should try adapting literary works instead. Our conversation veered off to Murakami, and she told me that I would actually like AFTER DARK (she knew I didn't like his other stuff) as it was a book that definitely 'suited my sensibilities', adding that it's the kind of book I'd like to adapt since it's rather cinematic.
She was right.
I liked AFTER DARK. It's a nice little read. Being the type of guy whose favourite time of the day is after midnight, and often staying up all night, the nocturnal activities of the characters and its atmosphere depicted in the book struck a chord. Book is an ensemble piece, but centers around Mari, a 19-year-old young woman who doesn't want to go home, spending the whole night in family restaurants reading an unnamed book. But a chain of events is triggered when a talkative Jazz musician, Takahashi, walks over and starts a conversation with her. He is a friend of Mari's elder sister, the beautiful Eri. Eri is back at home, in the middle of a sleep that had lasted for months, not a coma, just slumber.
Moments after Takahashi had left for an all-night practice, there's a woman manager of a love hotel called Alphaville (yes, named after my favourite Jean-Luc Godard film that highly influenced my short film, Girl Disconnected) who interrupts Mari from her reading. A Chinese immigrant prostitute had just been beaten up badly by a businessman and Mari, who speaks rather fluent Mandarin, is needed to help translate her words.
Book is like a film, since he uses a camera-narration technique (similar to Stephen King and Peter Straub's novel, BLACK HOUSE) to tell the story, it can be considered either as innovative or pretentious, but for me, it worked for After Dark by heightening the surrealistic mood of the tale (elliptical and ambiguous, book's really a mood piece than something plot or character-driven) and helping much to retain my attention, since I was really expecting myself to just flip through a few chapters and put it aside if it bored me.
It's a little like an indie film done by Richard Linklater or Jim Jarmusch. Rather liked the weird scifi crap sleeping Eri went through alone in her bedroom, and also the light relationship developed between Takahashi and Mari. Extra points for naming the hotel Alphaville, though I didn't really care that much about that side of the story (once again, I prefer the mood of the book than the actual story) Anyone seeking resolution for all subplots will be disappointed, since, well, this is Murakami. Subplots don't necessarily intersect with one another, they just brush past, nothing major to tie everything up together.
Have ideas of adapting the whole thing myself by doing a short film on each subplot, maybe I'll ask Murakami about it. Nah, I'm just kidding.
Nonetheless, it did help spark a bit of inspiration for myself, thanks, Mel!
That's all I have to say about the book.
For additional opinions, you can check out Ted Mahsun's review (published on The Star), or Ted Gioia's review at Blogcritics (Murakami's much loved among guys named Ted). There's also a compilation of reviews for After Dark too.