Haruki Murakami’s After Dark is absolutely delicious. It goes somewhere inside the reader and stays there without seeming to going anywhere at all. Short, seemingly slight, and yet each secondary character is so well delineated they don't seem like secondary characters; each coincidence so well written there doesn't seem to be a coincidence; each bit of cruelty intolerable and each breath of redemption practically lavender-scented.
How did he do it? He framed it in a simple enough structure, seemingly more Hollywood or prime-time special than literary fiction. It’s the story of one girl’s downtown all-nighter and the people that populate and shape it, seen and unseen. Mari doesn’t feel like going home because her sister Eri has a problem. Mari can’t solve Eri’s problem, but Mari can perhaps fix what went wrong with her and Eri.
Why she doesn’t feel like going home, what Eri’s problem is, and how Mari can recover her sisterly feelings are things that are revealed, or not, at a pace so perfect we don’t even realize we’re being paced. Similarly, the secondary characters, who are only secondary by virtue of their patterns of appearance, are shown to the reader as though on a slowly brightening stage.
We understand more and more from a zero beginning, but without a bit of frustration as the process is so enjoyable. One never gets the feeling Murakami is toying with his reader or trying to show how clever he is. The narrative voice is cool but involved. This seems like a book the author put together because he wanted to – because he thought it was a good idea. And it was.
What bumps it up from good to brilliant is that through all through the gradual elucidation of characters and emotions, Murakami takes the time to wrap us up in Eri’s spell as well. There has never been such a passive protagonist that will stay with you like she does; never a protagonist so seemingly calm who will discomfit you for so long. While we understand more and more, we understand less and less. That, too, is unfrustrating.
I recommend it – definitely – for the beach, for the evening, for the commute to work, for anywhere. After Dark is published by Bond Street Books and it's available in Canada through Random House.