It’s no secret that I’m a Murakami fan. That happened once I read “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” while in a master’s course with Vic Sage at UEA in 2001, and continued with “The Elephant Vanishes,” sadly lost at sea with a box-full of other books when I returned to the States. I’m going to read his new books anyway, so it’s always a pleasure to review them as well.

My review of his latest novel, “After Dark,” is out in today’s Honolulu Advertiser. What I didn’t say in the review is that I read it, I liked it, but thought it was slim, simple, and, well, different that his others. Perhaps it was the relative lightness within this world of dark, or the rhythm of the prose. But the more I thought about it, the more deceptively simple and acutely thought-provoking it appeared, connections arising and meeting in a place with depth that was altogether unexpected.

True, I didn’t like it as much as “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” or “Wind-up,” but I do like it and think it’s very good. I’m curious to see what he creates and makes of this new rhythm in the future.

Since the link no longer works, here’s the review in full:

Murakami masters short tales
After Dark

By Haruki Murakami
KNOPF; 191 pages; $22

Reviewed by Christine Thomas
Published in the Atlanta Journal Constituion
6/3/2007

Challenging boundaries of reality is an abiding endeavor of Haruki Murakami, author of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka on the Shore.” But his latest, compact novel elevates this pet exploration by linking it directly to the ramifications of pure observation.

From the start of “After Dark,” an unidentified “we” narrator acts as a self-conscious camera, filming, zooming, and rendering select contours of Tokyo’s amusement district just before midnight. In disarming and unusually minimalist prose, this viewpoint initially attempts only to reveal the “what,” but eventually can’t help but probe the “why”: the experiences and motivations beneath the surface of people and events.

Among the first to be captured in its sights are Mari, a young Chinese-language student hiding in an “anonymous and interchangeable” Denny’s restaurant, and her sister Eri in bed at home, whose unusual slumber the narrator likewise tracks:

“We allow ourselves to become a single point of view, and we observe her for a time. Perhaps it should be said that we are peeping in on her. Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room.”

In a chance meeting typical of Murakami, Mari’s anonymity is soon disturbed when Takahashi, a schoolmate of her younger sister, discovers her. Then, upon his recommendation, Kaoru, the proprietor of the Alphaville love hotel (also the title of a Godard film) asks Mari to come and translate for a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten and robbed in one of the rooms.

Throughout, the camera moves unrestricted between Mari and Takahashi, Eri asleep and “groping uncertainly for the meaning of her own flesh,” and the man who abused the prostitute–and is also inexplicably connected to Eri’s somnambulant escape.

This filmic device is pervasive, mirrored by direct references to such films as “Blade Runner,” and supported by a cast of corporate brands, including 7-Eleven, Camels, Perrier and Swatch. Each symbolizes the octopuslike grasp of structured society, whose rules increase the imagined distance characters perceive and perpetuate between themselves and others.

Their resulting robotic, corporate motions are mimicked by the novel’s detached prose, including dialogue that takes on the appearance of a film script, and descriptions that read like stage directions. Other times the rhythm simply hums, almost in deference to the anonymity of the city as a whole:

“Even at a time like this, the street is bright enough and filled with people coming and going—people with places to go and people with no place to go; people with a purpose and people with no purpose; people trying to hold time back and people trying to urge it forward.”

But by “filming” the seemingly separate worlds of each character, Murakami actually knits them together. We may think we aren’t connected, but Murakami subtly realigns our perception with the ability to establish connection instead of just observing from a distance.

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