Monday, June 25, 2007

Reading Binge: Pacific Rim, Part 3, or After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Before I get to down to business, let me just say that the U.S. publisher has once again won the competition for most boring dustjacket. And the U.S. cover is designed by Chip Kidd, no less, which makes it even more surprising. Better examples follow.

The Pacific Rim Reading Binge Pendulum swings back to Asia, as I just finished the latest novel from the other, more famous Murakami, Haruki. After Dark was a quick read, and it is vintage Murakami.

I have purposely avoided reviews, but I have a google alert set for him, so every day I see a line or two from various outlets, and the reviews, or the promises of reviews seem to be positive.

This novel is also next up in the book club of the Bay Ridge Jewish Center, and Melanie read this ahead of me, her first experience with Murakami. I won't speak entirely for her, but I am pleased to report that she enjoyed the book and has indicated an interest in reading more of his work.

Anyway, After Dark, is a brief snapshot of a stretch of early morning night life in a Japanese city - our central character is a young girl name Mari who, through a series of typical Murakami encounters, crosses paths with a young musician, which propels the narrative forward smoothly along the wheels of night.

There is a plot involving a love hotel, its former female wrestler manager, a Chinese prostitute, and her client.

All very normal, but these events run parallel with the surreal. This is a Murakami novel, after all.

The narrator doubles as a film director, in a sense, painting a scene of a woman sleeping in a room. I'll go out on a limb and state that Murakami has made a woman sleeping alone in a bed more interesting than any writer before him.

Of course, this is an oversimplification. However, Murakami takes this bizarre reality-blurring sleeping/waking woman, and weaves her into the main plot with mastery and intrigue.

Questions are raised and, as dawn approaches, along with the end of the book, the reader realizes that many questions will go unanswered.

The final page comes and there is an aftertaste of frustration, a desire unfulfilled to get more of these characters, this world, this reality. I must say that this is not a new sensation for the avid Haruki Murakami fan, but we are used to it by now. It's like Sandy Koufax retiring at the height of his career. You realize he could have gone on and succeeded more, you wish he had, but then you understand why he stopped, and can't blame him for his choice. You are left with a feeling of lingering admiration.

And this Post-Murakami-Novel syndrome leaves you with pleasing aftereffects - you think about the book, and it continues to haunt you, or at least forces you to take pause and wonder, and marvel, at the significance of the journey you've just taken.

Very few writers accomplish that sensation as well as Haruki Murakami.

I still wonder about my favorite Murakaim novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and the constant affirmation I receive from other fans that this too is their favorite novel (see this prior post here for more).

After Dark
is not Murakami's best, but its still pretty damn good. A cool drink on a hot summer evening. Refreshing enough to cleanse the palette. Delicious enough to make you want more.

Some assorted reviews:

Review in the L.A. Times here.

And in the New York Times here.

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