It has been a while since I finished After Dark and all I have left are impressions. Shifting images. Vague sensations. That eerie, odd feeling you get when you’ve been up late staring at the computer screen for five hours and the house seems to hum and your eyes have trouble focusing. Murakami writes that time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. Not just languid and sluggish, but almost otherworldly.
After Dark is a book written about a single night in the city. We start at the beginning, at a prescribed hour close to, or sometime after midnight. And accompanied by an anonymous omniscient narrator we observe the various comings and goings of the strange, the insomniac, and the sick. It feels like a guided tour; we don’t go where we want to go, but where this higher observer takes us. The ‘camera’ of the narrative zooms in and out throughout the city, and the scene changes often – sometimes with an explanation, other times seemingly at random.
We follow a young woman who sits in a restaurant reading, and then cut to a room and a beautiful girl lying in her bed, lost in a deep, dark sleep. The two are sisters, but they live in completely different spheres. Enter a musician who claims an acquaintance, a TV set that is more than it seems, and a series of interconnected events that may or may not have any meaning.
The world in After Dark doesn’t quite seem real. It’s a heady mix of fairy-tale and urban realism. From the uncanny mirror reflections with lives of their own, to the story of Sleeping Beauty, modernized for a digital age, the overall effect is one of disorientation and, oddly, quiet.
The characters are interesting and individual, and you tend to pick up more about them by what they don’t say, rather than what they do. You have this sense that there is so much more to them that the narrator isn’t telling you.
After Dark is a slow, surreal book that delivers everything the title and the name on the front promises. It is one you want to read slowly, in a quiet place, in the middle of the night. It is a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. And those really are the best kinds.