Murakami’s book bears so little resemblance to the description of the story posted on not only samedaybooks but on Amazon that you have to wonder if there was an editor at all involved*. Probably not because this book is definitely a return to form. None of the insipid dialogue that most likely crept in during the translation of Murakami’s previous novel, ‘Kafka on the Shore’ has sneaked onto the pages here.
The publisher’s own description states that: “Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home.” No. No. No. Fire that intern.
Mari – it is only hinted at first – has run away from home and the musician, Takahashi, forces his presence on her as she tries to read a book. The coffee is simply there so she can pretend to be a customer. Neither have missed their train and that is only the first point to launch the story. What follows is a story that unfolds much like a David Lynch movie (without the misogyny).
This novel is about the love between two sisters and the reasons for their estrangement. It is about the accidental fascination of potential love between strangers. It is about those small accidents in life where your life crosses paths with others unseen but who are always there.
Anyone who has ever worked through the midnight hours or is insomniac knows how the darkest hours of night have different rules from daytime and if you are looking for true isolation, you have to wait until everyone else is asleep. Takahashi breaks these rules: he is the novel’s White Rabbit**. The people you meet in these hours are different with many reasons for being awake at that time and talking to them reveals more material than a novelist could ever need. It is in the dialogue that the story of each character becomes a myth, the narrative styles switching to the sort of aesthetic that Richard Linklater would understand.
If you’re the greatest living writer in the world, which author do you turn to for influence and for ideas? If there is nothing new under the sun, then it makes sense to turn to other media and in his own dark hours of insomnia, Murakami must have watched a lot of contemporary cinema. As the distance between people, their memories and their dreams and the fantastical clash with reality are the story that Murakami writes of, his narrative style borrows heavily from the script-style of movie-writing and it works to brilliant effect, allowing us to see the character’s interior dreaming lives without ever losing a sense of reality.
Murakami has long been re-knowned for making the strange, mundane and vice versa and this is a book that compares to his best, ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle‘.
Time for the author to get a new (UK) publisher.
* Postscript – Ever since Random House (or, Bertelsmann Group) took over Harvill Press, their consistent mismanagement of what was a fantastic list of works-in-translation has told. The first indication of dumbing-down was the change from the fantastic covers that used to grace Harvill ‘Panther’ titles – particularly those of Japan’s foremost author, Haruki Murakami – to the bland Sebastian-Faulks-lite in-house style that is so bland, one fails to bring up sufficiently putrid adjectives to describe the self-taught sub-Photoshop beigeness. (The second mistake was merging the Secker&Warburg list with Harvill instead of Pimlico where it more correctly belonged. Office politics, huh?) However, a bean-counter in Random must have been paying attention to complaints from readers – or was it the Tesco fiction buyer? – because Murakami’s latest book has a non-Random House style cover. Good for you (but there are greater photographers than Nobuyoshi Araki in Japan who don’t appeal to Western stereotypes of the perpetually sexually available Japanese woman). Now try reading the book before posting a description online. Please. It’s embarrassing and before you deal with that, there’s more…
“Shortly afterwards Mari will be interrupted a second time by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel…” A girl? What? You missed that that this ‘girl’ – Kaori – is described as a former wrestler in her thirties? It’s a key part of the story. This ‘love hotel’ manager has to face down a member of the Triad – another key part of the story – what? So you missed the connection with Murakami’s earlier works? Mention of North Manchuria? Hallo. Did you miss the connection about the hotel manager’s staff? ‘Cricket’? A new chosen name for what? Oh, maybe a character who used to listen to the sound of the Wind-Up Bird… And her colleague ‘Wheat’? Come on guys… publishers are supposed to assist in the selling of the books they produce.
The publisher intern writes: “With “After Dark”, we journey beyond the twilight, strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?” Huh? Has the intern who cobbled together this precis never read ‘Alice in Wonderland**’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ – let alone this book? Please. It is about many things but nothing so droll as ‘a trick of the night?‘ And, sorry, I couldn’t resist but the question mark wasn’t mine. Can’t you just tell that Random House don’t publish dictionaries and other guides to the correct use of English?
The blame doesn’t only lie with the intern. This bungled attempt at summarising the story and selling it to us – there are others – is printed on the inside of the dust-jacket. Someone, somewhere, bungled the job. Thank goodness for booksellers who actually read the books they sell.