After Dark – Haruki Murakami

Rather in contrast to my last post, where I disliked the book but did have some things to say which sounded positive, this one is going to be full of things that sound critical (or just baffled), but which must ultimately be ignored, because the book is frankly excellent. I just can’t put my finger on exactly what makes it excellent. At least today, I’m not fuelled by jam and so should be at least semi-coherent. I hope. I’ll try, anyway.

First thing’s first… I’m not actually sure what the point of the book is. Or even if there is a point. The story doesn’t seem to go anywhere particular, or have any sort of aim. Some things happen, two sets of some things in fact, but they don’t seem… like a plot. It’s just a document of occurrences. The two threads only seem loosely connected, too. The book is fairly short, so it ends up just being a snapshot of a night, much as the title suggests. Obviously I understand that this may well, in fact, be the purpose of the book. But what I more mean is that there feels like no… narrative drive. Normally, this would irritate me. But under some circumstances, this sort of thing can be good – see most of Guy Gavriel Kay, for example.This is definitely one of the latter sort, since there’s a sort of pleasant, eerie expectation to it – you drift along, waiting for some sort of intent to materialise, and constantly being thwarted. But in a good way. A very gentle way. It’s weird. The prose is lovely, so of course you don’t mind just watching while you wait for something to happen but it’s more than just the enjoyment of the way with words that Murakami undoubtedly has. It never gets like The City and the City, where the expectation, I found, got too much, too annoying, and the prevarication and thwarting just became unbearable. Because there’s only this subtle, small feeling that plot and purpose may be coming along soon, it feels less of a problem when they continue not to. There’s also a very abstract, emotionless quality to it, even when the characters are discussing quite emotional topics, that somehow keeps you at a distance from any feelings there might be.

Of course, this leads into what would be my usual grip of characters not being charactery enough. And, well, they’re not. Even though we’re given a lot of information about them and they speak a heck of a lot, you don’t get that emotional connection to the characters that I would normally crave. And grumble about an absence of. But here I am, not grumbling. Again, somehow, it works. It plays into that eerie, night-time quality the whole book does so well, and instead of detracting from the excellence of the whole thing adds to it. It does help that the characters, emotionally distant though they be, are absolutely fascinating. The information we are given about them spools out so carefully, at such a pace, that it treads a perfect line of tantalisingly mysterious, never spilling over into “irritatingly vague” or “monotonously rambling”. Just that right amount of curious to make you want to carry on reading, just to find out that next little bit. Well, that’s the one thread. The other thread is not so focussed on human interaction, more a little mystery. Which never gets resolved. You learn nothing about the character involved in it, or the purpose of it, or whether it is allegory or SF, how it relates to the other thread (or if it does at all) or… anything really. You learn nothing, gain nothing, feel nothing… and yet it still feels wonderfully worthwhile. Yes, I am mystefied.

And that’s sort of all there is to it. The whole book is a snapshot of two sets of experiences of one night, in one town, among a few people. You get snapshots of their stories which never get resolved. Hints of their lives that never get explained. No resolutions or meanings. Just a window on a few occurrences.

It’s perfectly paced, beautifully written and utterly mystefying. I loved it. Thus far, Murakami has scored two wins with me. I shall investigate more of his stuff once I clear the current book pile.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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