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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

After Dark

Murakami Haruki

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To purchase After Dark

Title: After Dark
Author: Murakami Haruki
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 191 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: After Dark - US
After Dark - UK
After Dark - Canada
After Dark - India
Le passage de la nuit - France
Afterdark - Deutschland
After dark - Italia
After dark - España
  • Japanese title: アフターダーク
  • Translated by Jay Rubin

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Our Assessment:

A- : appealing, atmospheric

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 15/5/2007 Heller McAlpin
The Economist . 19/5/2007 .
Entertainment Weekly B 4/5/2007 Jennifer Reese
Financial Times . 1/6/2007 Margaret Hillenbrand
FASz . 30/10/2005 Julia Encke
FAZ . 26/4/2006 Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit
The Guardian . 9/6/2007 Steven Poole
The Independent . 29/6/2007 Matt Thorne
The LA Times . 13/5/2007 Edward Champion
New Statesman . 4/6/2007 Daniel Trilling
The NY Sun . 9/5/2007 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/6/2007 Walter Kirn
The Observer B 10/6/2007 Killian Fox
Salon A 30/5/2007 Laura Miller
San Francisco Chronicle A 13/5/2007 Juvenal Acosta
The Spectator A 16/6/2007 William Brett
Sunday Times . 3/6/2007 Lucy Atkins
The Telegraph B 14/6/2007 Tim Martin
The Telegraph . 14/6/2007 Christopher Tayler
The Times . 26/5/2007 Ruth Scurr
TLS . 8/6/2007 Sophie Ratcliffe
The Washington Post . 20/5/2007 Michael Dirda
Die Zeit B- 24/11/2005 Sibylle Berg

  Review Consensus:

  Many not entirely clear what it might all be about, but the majority impressed, in one way or another

  From the Reviews:
  • "Murakami's cultural references are almost exclusively Western and often musical. His new novel's strongest evocations are of two American visual artists: Edward Hopper's desolately lonely paintings and the slow-motion video installations of contemporary artist Bill Viola. Murakami seems, magically, to have translated the essence of these artists' two-dimensional works into quietly luminous prose, adding the humanity that is his signature. In classic Murakami form, amid the alienation are flickers of hopefulness springing from seemingly random, serendipitous human interactions and connections. (…) Like a latter-day Walker Percy or Albert Camus, Murakami raises questions about perception and existence, though he feels no compunction to propose answers. For him, the intrigue is in the engaging situations and conversations even alienated individuals encounter as they wend their hapless way through their often bewildering lives." - Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor

  • "The author describes adeptly the empathy and understanding that can occur between strangers bound by fate, and his account of the growing intimacy between Takahashi and Mari is moving. But for all its enigmatic qualities the book leaves an empty feeling, with the unexplained mystery of the sleeping Eri a particular source of frustration. Even with its flaws, though, After Dark is a reminder that, however close the involvement of two people, they can never know each other completely." - The Economist

  • "The plotlines intertwine haphazardly and a bit listlessly, but Murakami's gifts for conjuring surreal imagery and a dreamlike mood remain uncanny." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Sleep, and all the altered states its absence conjures up, are the subject of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel (…..) These moments of connection are Murakami at his best. His flair for making dialogue bloom from inhospitable soil, the way he can magic a memorable encounter out of thin air, and his conviction that there is salvation to be found in the company of strangers -- all these familiar Murakami traits animate the pages of the novel and give it the writer’s special stamp. Yet in After Dark this signature style seems to have found itself a fresher groove." - Margaret Hillenbrand, Financial Times

  • "Es ist ein seltsamer Murakami-Effekt, daß man beim Lesen seiner Romane ganz ruhig wird, daß man eintaucht in einen meditativen Zustand. Alles erscheint gedämpft" - Julia Encke, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

  • "Das alles riecht nach einem typisch postmodernen Roman. Doch Afterdark ist ungleich leichtgewichtiger als seine Vorgänger, auch wenn das Buch, wie üblich bei Murakami, geheimnisvoll und banal zugleich anmutet." - Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "There are few explanatory connections and reasons for acts. Instead the novel progresses through hallucinatory edits. Twice, light itself seems to slow down, becoming sluggish and viscous, as people leave their likenesses in mirrors, the reflections still peering out when their owners have left the room. (…) Such fatalism is made only more resonant by the novel's matter-of-fact style. Indeed, it is altogether too cool for comfort. (…) After Dark is perhaps the closest Murakami has yet come to composing a pure tone-poem. (…) Exposition is set to the minimum, while the mood-colouring is virtuosic. Morning, at the end of the novel, is an extraordinary blend of the hesitant blossoming of romance and an ode to renewal. The novel could be an allegory of sleep, a phenomenology of time, or a cinematic metafiction. Whatever it is, its memory lingers." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "After Dark feels like an important Murakami novel, yet as with Kafka on the Shore there, is a sense that the most significant parts of the narrative have been deliberately hidden deep beneath the deceptively simple surface. The book is undoubtedly worth reading, but it's hard to work out whether the novel is a dream or a nightmare, or (as one character suggests) somewhere in between." - Matt Thorne, The Independent

  • "By siphoning his imagination into this taut story structure, Murakami more willfully contains his narrative powers than he did in his expansive masterpiece, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. (...) Murakami is masterful with symbolism. Milk, far from putting the leche in lechery, serves as fey nectar against the darker impulses of human nature." - Edward Champion, The Los Angeles Times

  • "It is almost as if Murakami doesn't want the physical details of plot, character and location to trouble the reader's attention too much. They appear almost incidental to the novel's aim of evoking the sense of altered perception that comes to us during the hours when we should be sleeping. From the book's opening passage, where we swoop down on the city through the eyes of a bird, Murakami seeks to detach us from the action. The effect is otherworldly, but it's also creepy. (…) After Dark, in its brevity, is less a sculpture than an intricately formed snowflake. It's pretty, for sure, but look at it for too long and it's liable to melt into nothingness." - Daniel Trilling, New Statesman

  • "Although Mr. Murakami's social realism may sound flimsy, it works as it's read. Mr. Murakami has always paid more attention to dreams than to reality, and the best thing about After Dark is its cohesive atmosphere, one of delay and suspense, as time slows down and everybody gets the creeps. If Mr. Murakami were to attempt a 24-hour epic, his would emphasize the night as James Joyce emphasized the day. After Dark is the rare novel that should have been longer." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "After Dark, Murakami’s latest novel, is a streamlined, hushed ensemble piece built on the notion that very late at night, after the lamps of logic have been snuffed and rationality has shut its eyes, life on earth becomes boundariless and blurred. Individuals who were separate during the day begin to lose uniqueness, to leak distinctiveness, melting into a soft psychic collective. (…) The conflict of wills that is typically the basis for suspenseful storytelling never quite emerges in After Dark. Instead what we get is a dissipation of wills into a charged communal flow." - Walter Kirn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Readers hoping for a big, nourishing storyline to match The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle may be mildly disappointed by After Dark. It's not as engaging as the former, nor as affecting as some of his other shorter novels. It is probably best to think of it as a mood piece, in which atmosphere is considerably richer than a frequently elliptical plot." - Killian Fox, The Observer

  • "The plain style and deceptively on-the-nose dialogue of Murakami's recent fiction can trick the imperceptive reader into thinking his work is simple. Instead, he's drilling down to the essential mysteries of existence, jettisoning the sort of ornamental language that lesser writers use to gesture toward profundity; Murakami doesn't need it. (…) (O)ne of the author's most fully realized short fictions" - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "After Dark is a bittersweet novel that will satisfy the most demanding literary taste. It is a sort of neo-noir flick set in half-empty diners, dark streets and hotel rooms straight out of the paintings of Edward Hopper. It reminds us that while great pleasures make this life worth living, great danger threatens the fictitious stability of our lives." - Juvenal Acosta, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "After Dark explores the ways in which the night can heighten our sense of isolation, and threaten our conception of reality. It’s also an engrossing story and an easy read, yet another example of the much-admired Japanese author’s skill in couching challenging, intricate themes within beguilingly simple narratives. (…) All this may sound a little heavy, overwrought, even pretentious. But Murakami writes with such elegance that the reader receives his ideas more by osmosis than by intellectual elbow grease. (…) Its lightly worn seriousness marks it out as the work of a mature writer employing his considerable powers to the full." - William Brett, The Spectator

  • "Throughout, individuals behave as if trapped in bubbles, knocking against each other, sometimes gently, sometimes with violence, but never so that they burst. This perhaps sounds dark and depressing but it is not. Murakami’s gift is that his bizarre and disconnected universe makes intuitive sense; his playful touch and deep compassion for the isolated human state lend his words a joyful, colourful tint. This is a complex work by a thinker who, like his characters, defies definition." - Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times

  • "Haruki Murakami's new novel is what jazzers like its author would think of as a mood piece: heavy on the ambience, feather-light on narrative development and persistently attentive to texture. It's meticulously soundtracked, studded with sly nods to various filmmakers, and set between midnight and 7am on a single night; it's also artfully surreal, very hip and almost entirely forgettable. (…) After Dark isn't bad, it just isn't very much of anything." - Tim Martin, The Telegraph

  • "If Lynch had directed Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, the result might have been something like this." - Christopher Tayler, The Telegraph

  • "Murakami weaves the pattern of criss-crossing night lives with a series of reflections on perspective in After Dark. (..)After Dark reminds us of the risks, innovation and disquiet that underpin his success. It is not an easy book, nor is it meant to be. In Murakami’s fictional world forests are imposing, gardens strange and playgrounds surprisingly serious places." - Ruth Scurr, The Times

  • "In After Dark, Murakami never seems fully to countenance the potential comedy of his characters, or the fact that their discussions fall into a familiar system of their own. This tonal difference must be seen as part of the sensibility of twentieth-century Japanese art, which, from Tanizaki to Anime cartoons, relies on the deadpan and the absurd. But, in the end, nothing about After Dark, and its wide-eyed philosophizing, seems surprising. Perhaps this is because its message is far too clear to be truly bewildering. One wishes Haruki Murakami had left a little more in the shade." - Sophie Ratcliffe, Times Literary Supplement

  • "After Dark is a short book, hypnotically eerie, full of noirish foreboding, sometimes even funny, but, most of all, it's one that keeps ratcheting up the suspense. At times, the novel recalls those unsettling films of Jean-Luc Godard or Michelangelo Antonioni where something dire seems always about to happen, even as attractive young people, full of anomie and confusion, meander aimlessly through an ominous urban landscape." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

  • "Auch in Afterdark geht es wieder um traurige, verlorene Gestalten, um Mädchen, die immer schlauer sind als die Jungs, es geht um Jazz und Ernährung. Aber irgendetwas ist in diesem 2004 im Original veröffentlichten Roman ein klein wenig missglückt. (…) Bei allem Respekt, den ich dem Ausnahmetalent Murakami entgegenbringe, dieses Buch wirkt ein wenig wie von Nick Hornby umgeschrieben." - Sibylle Berg, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       After Dark is set in a single night, beginning just before midnight and ending with the sun rising again. Some chance encounters, the intersection of a variety of lives: not much happens in these hours, yet Murakami dangles enough in front of the reader and constantly leaves small questions unanswered (from: what is that book the girl is reading at Denny's ?) to hold the reader's attention. Without much obvious progression -- a character who has to remember to do some shopping on his way home is about the most goal-oriented of the lot -- Murakami nevertheless creates a world of great (and often ominous) possibility and expectation.
       The narrator's presence is sometimes very emphatically put -- all the more noticeable because it is not an "I" but a "we". A reader might bristle at being included in this way, powerless even as s/he's told: "Our line of sight chooses an area of concentrated brightness and, focusing there, silently descends to it" (since there's no choice whatsoever for the reader here: the perspective, here and throughout, is pre-determined, with no opportunity for choosing a different locale to light upon ...), and so might choose to read the 'we' as some sort of omniscient cluster-narrator, the gods who aren't quite in control. Either way, Murakami is very firm in what he allows (and what he doesn't). In later scenes, especially around Mari's sister Eri, the narrator again comes to the fore, and again insists on a particular point of view -- even as it is framed as a matter of choice ("We want to check out the interior of that other room directly, with our own eyes", etc.) and makes it teasingly easy:

     It's not that difficult once we make up our mind. All we have to do is separate from the flesh, leave all substance behind, and allow ourselves to become a conceptual point of view devoid of mass.
       The reader is drawn along with this "conceptual point of view"; some perhaps go willingly, but when Murakami puts it this way it's hard to keep from imagining the alternatives that could be chosen, the other nooks and crannies that could be explored but that "we" are not allowed to .....
       At Denny's trombone player Tetsuya Takahashi, taking a break from an all-night jam session, sits down at Mari's table. They've met before -- and he knows her sister, the beautiful Eri. Mari isn't very open to begin with, but Takahashi doesn't mind and is glad to lead the conversation, and over the course of the night they'll meet and talk some more.
       It's Takahashi that also gets her involved in other people's lives: a Chinese girl is beaten up at a 'love hotel', and he sends the manager to Denny's to ask for Mari's help, since the girl can't speak Japanese but Mari is fluent in Chinese.
       The novel follows these few threads -- including the rest of the night of the man responsible for beating up the Chinese girl -- but they're fairly loosely intertwined. Murakami's world is one of chance and glancing encounters rather than tightening connexions and clear resolutions. The criss-crossing is as likely to be incidental as head-on: so, for example, the goon-handler of the Chinese girl drives his motorcycle right beside the taxi in which the man he's looking for is riding -- but the moment passes, potential unfulfilled. (The attacker also leaves the Chinese girl's cellphone in a convenience store, the threatening calls her handlers then make thus going into almost a void -- they reach someone (people pick up the phone and answer it) but not the person they want to; it's like some vast sea of anonymity, yet where everyone is somehow touched by everything that happens.)
       One of the issues Mari has is with her sister, the popular and beautiful one in the family, but Eri has her own issues, which only become clearer later in the novel. Several scenes focus on her troubled sleep, but Murakami only fits the pieces together slowly. It's fairly effective, even in its resolutions, though not all of Murakami's games around her (and the camera angles he chooses ...) convince.
       There are many stretches of After Dark which read like they were written by a very young author, trying out different things, unable to stick to one style and approach. It doesn't speak against the novel, however -- indeed, it even gives the book a very youthful freshness. (Murakami has also always been particularly good with younger characters, and that reinforces that feeling here, too: here Mari is 19, her sister and Takahashi not much older, and Murakami again nails the feel of life at that age.)
       Much of the night in question feels almost everyday, what happens just as likely to happen any other day "we" might have chosen, and much of the appeal of Murakami's writing is in how well he conveys what seem like unremarkable scenes. As it turns out, there is more to this evening than most, from it being Takahashi's last time with the band to Mari's future (not to mention sleeping beauty Eri ...). Murakami doesn't always seem sure of how best to present the story, but for the most part he does do a very nice job of it.
       Appealing, surprisingly resonant.

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After Dark: Reviews: Murakami Haruki: Other books by Murakami Haruki under review: Books about Murakami Haruki under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Japanese literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949. He attended Waseda University. He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.

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