Genre: Zen-Like Contemplative Japanese Fiction
Author: Haruki Murakami (2007)
review in one breath
In the darkest hours of night, between midnight and the break of dawn, when humanity succumbs to its natural, evolutionary escape from life and work in the form of dreams, a potentially unnatural and dream-like Reality emerges, revealing a transient depth which most waking souls know nothing of. This is the latest national best-selling novel by ethereal Japanese author Haruki Murakami whose unique obsession and compelling explorations deftly capture the often blurred boundary between the conscious and the subconscious, the natural and the supernatural.
This is the latest of twelve novels translated and published abroad by author Haruki Murakami. The Western reviews of his work thus far have been phenomenal, resulting in several (US) national best-sellers and prompting some (the New York Times to be exact) to prophetically suggest that he will soon be the most widely internationally read Japanese author.
I caught wind of this praise during reviews of his prior novel Kafka on the Shore and thought I had better see for myself. Given the massive hype, I confess I was expecting something as milk-toast as those on Oprah's reading list. But even as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the more mystical side of all things Japanese, I found myself completely enmeshed, entertained and in the end somewhat enlightened by Murakami's writing. I quickly thereafter picked up a copy of his latest novel After Dark and found that this impression was no fluke. Murakami indeed consistently pens his tales in mystifying strokes which will undoubtedly be of interest to fans of J-Horror and traditional Japanese mysticism. Perhaps to explicitly prove this point to all of us, Murakami's next (US released) novel is slated to be entitled Strange Tales from Tokyo (æ±äº¬å¥‡èšé›†, Tokyo Kitanshu) which I sincerely hope (and expect) will evoke heretofore unimagined contemporary Kaidan and urban legends. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
The novel Kafka on the Shore dealt explicitly with an overlap of the natural with the supernatural, invoking images of both traditional Shinto and contemporary psycho-sexual analytical insights, bringing the reader to a truly surreal and memorable state. The current novel, After Dark effectively accomplishes this same sense but without recourse to supernatural or religious references. Instead, what Murakami demonstrates is an uncanny ability to pause and unpack a single moment of time and demonstrate the ever-present existential abyss which haunts us all. To prove to the reader that he can plumb the chasms of such moments, this entire 244-page novel covers a mere 7-hour period, set at midnight on a wholly indiscriminate night in the urban depths of Tokyo through the waking hour when "normal life" resumes.
There is no doubt that Marukami is trying to stretch himself here, forcing himself to write a novel which involves such a short span of time and yet delves as deeply as he characteristically does into blurred boundaries between reason, experience and the transcendent or immanent. This proves to be not only a noble self-exercise for an accomplished author, but results in a truly insightful and contemplative examination of mere moments that readers are themselves forced to think deeply about themselves.
There seems to be good reason why Murakami has become such an admired author. His writing is exceptionally reflective and brings to the surface in very livid ways core intuitions which we, in our rat-race bustle have become dulled to.
Here is a quote, perhaps hinting at the core philosophy/approach of the narrative:
- A cycle has been completed, all disturbances have been resolved, perplexities have been concealed, and things have returned to their original state. Around us, cause and effect join hands, and synthesis and division maintain their equilibrium Everything, finally, unfolded in a place resembling a deep, inaccessible fissure. Such places open secret into darkness in the interval between midnight and the time the sky grows light. None of our principles have any effect there. No one can predict when or where such abysses will swallow people, or when or where they will spit them out. (215)
And an interesting passage possibly highlighting the meaning behind Murakami's effort to consistently blur boundaries:
- It's not as if our lives are divided simply into light and dark. There's a shadowy middle ground. Recognizing and understanding the shadows is what healthy intelligence does. And to acquire a healthy intelligence takes a certain amount of time and effort. (226)
To give a reader the chance to slow her/himself down and meaningfully observe a single moment in depth is a valuable option. Adding Murakami's highly intuitive and often bizarre commentary to that moment makes this narrative highly worth reading.