Afutãdãku (After Dark) (2004)
Following my reading of Haruki Murakami’s 2008 memoir of running, reviewed previously on this blog, I retrieved from my ever-growing ‘to read’ pile, this short novella from 2004. After Dark is slight – though the Vintage edition just fills 200 pages, it could easily lose another forty if all the white space and large clocks that begin each section were removed. It is a novella that seems to explore a very Japanese problem – Hikikomori, or the withdrawal from public life as a conscious decision, which the sisters Mari and Eri have both decided upon, Mari by coming out only at night and Eri by sleeping for two months, and that the clients at the Alphaville Hotel seem also to be doing.
The story takes place over one night and yet has none of the blistering rush that another author might have chosen; After Dark takes its time, its rhythms dictated by Duke Ellington jazz pieces, by the French Nouvelle Vague (Alphaville, lest we forget, is a 1965 science fiction movie by Jean-Luc Godard), and by the mood Murakami wishes to create: “Midnight is approaching, and while the peak of activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city’s moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.”
I am told that After Dark is not as arresting as some of Murakami’s other work. If this is indeed the case, then I will most certainly be tracking down the rest of his catalogue, for I found After Dark utterly seductive; it is a novel whose languorous tone envelopes you, and is populated by characters as beguiling as they are seductive. The tender romance that plays out between Mari and Takahashi is bittersweet, filled with longing and knowledge that this is all fleeting, a nocturnal moment that will be shattered by morning light.