I always have such a difficult time reviewing translated books. I usually don’t know who to give credit to as far as the writing is concerned. This time around, not only is the writing fantastic, but the story is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Although the book has been translated into English by Jay Rubin, I don’t feel like anything was lost in translation. I’m completely comfortable giving my first Murakami novel five stars for this reason.
First, let’s discuss the style choice. Second-person omniscient present tense. Basically folks, this is the narrative style used mainly in scripts. The book breaks the fourth wall by making the reader part of the behind the scenes. It turns us in a camera, or as the book puts it “pure point of view”. This style choice would normally piss me off, as lesser authors would use such a thing as a crutch because they need a character involved to see what’s going on. There are several parts of this book wherein the reader is standing in a room or setting devoid of other people. Murakami gets away with this by giving the environment a life of its own, by personifying objects and locations. For example: the city in After Dark is just as much a character as Mari or Kaoru or Takahashi. That’s impressive. An astounding feat that other authors have stumbled over. The failure that is Dean Koontz’s terrible The City comes to mind.
My favorite characters out of the bunch were Takahashi and Kaoru. Takahashi’s musician’s attitude was spot-on, and his chatty loneliness felt as real if not more so than Mari’s introverted personality. These two characters are exquisite together, and I would have read five hundred pages of just them conversating. And Kaoru’s character is a character I’ve not often read about. All scenes with her were fun and/or engaging.
The entire plot revolves around a sleeping girl (Eri, Mari’s sister) who seemingly only wakes up to eat. Her chapters are eye candy. Murakami has an uncanny ability of explaining complex ideas and visuals with simple language. Eri’s “dreams” are seemingly uncomplicated prosaic masterpieces. Then we have the subplot with the Chinese mafia, which adds a bit of tension to the narrative. Not much, only a sprinkle, but enough that there’s something going on in the midst of all the fantastic dialogue and character drama.
In summation: After Dark isn’t a book you read as much as it’s a book you experience. This was my first Haruki Murakami novel, and it certainly will not be my last. In fact, I plan on reading 1Q84 after I have a palate cleanser, because this guy’s writing is like fine wine.
Final Judgment: Stunning in its accomplishments.