Friday, August 31, 2007

We're Gonna Let It All Hang Out

I think that maybe, just maybe, Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite active novelists. When even your minor work is pretty good, well, that's an excellent sign.

I recently finished After Dark, a slight novel that he released after Kafka on the Shore. The whole book takes place between about 11pm and 6am, which really is the perfect time for a Murakami story. His plots are already so fluid and dreamlike, so this unnatural hour makes an ideal setting for his fantasies to play out.

So, who should NOT read this? As with all Murakami (except Underground), don't read if you're the sort of person who wants "resolution," or "explanations." If you like to have everything all wrapped up and neatly summed up at the end, you will find these books immensely unsatisfying.

Murakami's universe is inherently alogical. Events and characters somehow influence one another without ever coming into contact. You get the feeling that there is a spiritual plane hovering over the story: we don't see anything inside it, but can infer its existence by the way it directs events in reality.

At the same time, he has a firm grounding in the present world, particularly with pop culture. He writes knowledgeably about specific jazz pieces, the layout of parks, how characters prepare their meals, and more. It was particularly interesting for me to read Murakami after my trip to Japan; I think I'm now in a better position to really understand what he means when he describes the Denny's restaurant, or the 7-Eleven, or the other representations of all-night Tokyo existence.

Probably my one serious complaint with this story is the characters. While they do a great job at carrying out their Murakami role, and are the source of some really interesting dialog and observations, I didn't feel like I got much of a feel for the people themselves. I think, though, that this is probably in large part due to the structure of the story - he had quite a few points of view to divide his time between (including one really interesting disembodied narrator), and only about 200 pages in which to do everything. Then again, the themes of anonymity and separation are crucial to the book, so it may even be deliberate that the reader doesn't really penetrate these characters.

Fortunately for me, there are still plenty more of his books that I haven't read yet. It's exhilarating to have an unexhausted supply of good books, and I'm looking forward to continuing my journey through this very strange world.

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