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After Dark by Haruki Murakami May 31, 2010

Posted by ayasawada in Books.
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After Dark
After Dark
was the last English-translated Murakami novel I had left to read, so it was somewhat disappointing that I found it rather slight.

It’s a short book — not necessarily a bad thing considering South of the Border West of the Sun is one of my favourite novels. But I found this ‘Murakami-lite’, much like I did Sputnik Sweetheart: mysterious, but ultimately unsatisfying. Like Sputnik, some of the plot strands don’t go anywhere and the supernatural things (like Eri’s mysterious slumber and experiences) go unexplained, at least in the context of the rest of the books events.

I realise how idiotic it sounds to be seeking ‘explanation’ in a Murakami novel — part of his charm is that ethereal quality that accompanies his stories; communication through empathy more than explicit explanation. When it works, as in Norwegian Wood, A Wild Sheep Chase, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World or Kafka on the Shore, it’s very good. But when it doesn’t quite click it feels a bit like he’s trying too hard or going through the motions only to tail off as he realises it’s going nowhere.

That sounds like a very harsh criticism, but it’s because of the regard I have for Murakami as my favourite author and a writer I look up to. But his standards are head and shoulders above most writers, so when an effort is even a little below par, it’s noticeable.

This isn’t to say After Dark is unenjoyable or difficult to read, far from it. For the ‘real world’ bits of After Dark, the old Murakami charm is clearly there — Mari and Takahashi, for example, are wonderful rounded characters with an obvious chemistry. And given that it’s so short, it’s worth reading for those parts alone.

My opening sentence is the key to why I was so disappointed, I think. Having saved this one for so long as ‘the last Murakami novel I’ll have in a while’ part of me was hoping for a real gem. I guess I’ll just have to hold out for the translation of IQ84 (or really get serious about my Japanese study…).


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