AFTER DARK by Haruki Murakami (Bond Street/Doubleday), 256 pages, $14.28 paper. Rating: NNNN
Two sisters, one studious and pulling an all-nighter, the other glamorous and trapped in a dangerous enchanted slumber, are at the centre of Haruki Murakami’s new novel.
Eri, a pragmatic young girl resigned to being eclipsed by her beautiful sister, occasionally rebels by sneaking out to a diner to indulge in an all-night reading session. The novel opens with her doing just that at a Tokyo Denny’s just before midnight. Her solitude is interrupted, however, by a lanky young jazz trombonist who’s convinced they’ve met before.
Eri is soon pulled into a series of unsual events: she’s befriended by a former lady wrestler who runs a love hotel, asked to intervene on behalf of a Chinese call girl in distress and is shadowed by a computer programmer whose rigid, military demeanour conceals a terrible secret.
Eri’s sister, meanwhile, is still semi-comatose at their house and in danger (in one of Murakami’s signature dreamlike narrative conceits) of becoming permanently trapped in an otherworldly office inside her television screen.
What appears to be the interwoven story of six lost late-night souls is actually a meditation on young women in Japanese culture and the disturbing and fragmented ways that men relate to them. We’re also treated to an insider’s view of a Japanese love hotel (named Alphaville in a nod to Goddard’s futuristic film about a loveless utopia) as a nexus for male desire and rage in an increasingly alienated Japanese landscape.
Murakami has become so comfortable with his surreal fictional worlds that he creates the most outlandish effects with surprising economy and ease.
After Dark is a slender and effortless read that nonetheless has all the craft and substance of a much longer, denser work. Like a master magician, Murakami can perform his subtlest tricks sitting right next to you, amiably chatting away.