Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami


This is a Murakami novel. Yes, apart from the obvious what it means is that there are certain things you ought to know before you begin, like:
1. It cannot be caged inside the mundane confines of a 'genre'; it is, in the vaguest of terms, a personal experience like any other, albeit an extremely strange one.
2. It will feature at least one erudite (and bibliophilic) person and one music aficionado, several oddballs whom you come to know are characters by the last-page and cats. Cats are an absolute must even if they aren’t centre-stage, just cameo.
3. It will rain metaphors and magical realisms. (Cataclysmic? You have no idea.)

Now that you are armed with sufficient knowledge, I'll tell you how it all begins:

It is after dark and to those few who are awake, time, as sluggish as never, moves towards that mark of midnight, a the hour-hand’s staccato schlep following the omniscient minute-hand. Soon it will be another day. And we have a lot of places to be, among darkness and time.

There is Mari Asai, sitting in a late-night restaurant in a seedy downtown entertainment district with a cup of tasteless coffee, seemingly absorbed in the huge book she has in front of her. There is the chance and quite an uninteresting encounter with her sister's friend, Tetsuya, a jazz trombonist. There is her sister herself, Eri Asai who is a gorgeous model, in a different place, in an eerie bedroom, asleep in the most unnatural and deepest of slumbers. There is a Man with No Face watching her beautiful body from the other side of an unplugged television screen. And in yet another place, a love hotel not far from where Mari is seated, there is an inconsolable, physically abused, Chinese prostitute.

You see, to you and me, these are a weird motley of people, people we hardly associate with. But what the author does here is this: he strips them of their outlandish facade, strips them down to the banalities of small-talk and awkward conversations; he lets us see them at the ungodly hours, these strangers who make us feel all-knowing and clueless at once; then he leaves us to predict how the threads of their lives might intertwine, only to later reveal that these aren't threads we can hope to untangle but rather tides that continuously coalesce, emerging from realms that we can't possibly imagine.

At this point, I must tell you that it is near to impossible to review this book objectively with a clean cut dissection and psycho-analysis of each 'character' and tell you 'how things happen' and 'what you should make of it'. For one, the characters are unlike what conventionality demands, they talk and they muse, that is all. They seem to be tools to convey philosophical musings, at best. Now what a reader makes of this fact is entirely up to him but since this is a very short book (at 201 pages) I preferred it this way. And under the mighty cover of the night, when rationality is somnolent and morality already inching towards invisibility, there are too many blurred lines and much less explanation offered. While on one hand it makes the aforementioned magical realism more acceptable to the reader and leaves a lot to his/her picturesque imagination, it also seems inadequate-like too many pieces are missing. The prose is simple yet eloquent and exudes surrealism, like many other things, and never disappoints:
“You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed 'em to the fire, they're all just paper. The fire isn't thinking 'Oh, this is Kant,' or 'Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition,' or 'Nice tits,' while it burns. To the fire, they're nothing but scraps of paper. It's the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there's no distinction--they're all just fuel.”

Having read three of Murakami’s books in the last fortnight, I can safely say that even-though they all seem to share some similarities, these shared consistencies in no way imply predictability. If anything, one can be sure of what one is going to get out of the book and not be disappointed.  Recommendation, you ask? To those who desire a brief reprieve from the tedium of real life: pick the most peaceful and comfortable spot and spend some time with After Dark-with the unscrupulously seamless night, with Mari who suffers an identity crisis and with Tetsuya who’s unsure of his future, find yourself in their insecurities, their uncertainties and lose yourself in their words; and then walk back to the humdrum of everyday life, like you know a secret that the others don’t.

Contributed by Basuhi Ravi.