Monday, May 28, 2007

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

I am new to Haruki Murakami, as I've noted. which becomes my approach to his latest novel After Dark. While reading I am conscious of treading in unfamiliar territory, that the bounds of the novel are stretched in a way that feels strange to me, that this fictional world blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and all this is quite disquieting. Which is appropriate really, for After Dark is the story of the city at night, the known in the darkness, the familiar gone strange.

Mari, sitting in a Denny's drinking coffee, meets Takahashi who remembers her from years before. Their interaction is not terribly significant, but begins a chain of random events which reveal unsavory elements of the city at night. Seemingly random connections are explored, as characters meet one another, or pass by unknowingly. The night is presented as a kind of monster, each individual enveloped by the very same darkness. And throughout all of this Mari's sister Eri is sleeping in a mysterious room, but we don't know why.

Point of view is the most significant aspect of this narrative. Detached, limited, but exact, Murakami's narrator is not much more than a recorder, albeit self-aware. The narrator explains, "It's not that difficult once we make up our mind. All we have to do is separate from the flesh, leave all substance behind and allow ourselves to become a conceptual point of view devoid of mass. With that accomplished, we can pass through any wall, leap over any abyss." And so he does, recording all the way, but never more than this. The connections must become clear on their own, and the narrative becomes a careful negotiation of questions and revelations, betraying only what is essential and never giving too much away.

I find reading books in translation a frustrating but fascinating experience. The Japanese novel is constructed differently than those I've come to know, founded in a system of thought which is foreign to me. Translation means that the words came after the concepts, and I can read that strangeness in awkward expressions, but then it me think about words and expressions differently, outside their contexts. I have to twist my head around what is being said to make it fit, but having to work like that allows for an engagement many other books can't offer. Analogous to the city at night, I think, in its strangeness, offering an altered perspective of the world come morning.