Thursday, June 28, 2007

After Dark

"Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. You can't fight it."

Words spoken here by a jazz club owner that those in the know will interpret as a cameo appearance by Haruki Murakami himself in this, his most-recently translated novel.

I read somewhere that someone thinks this is the closest Murakami has got to creating a tone poem. It may also be the closest he's got to his two great influences, Twin Peaks and The Catcher in the Rye. As ever the very ordinary and the exceedingly uncanny are made to stumble into one another and the author makes full use of his now familiar symbolic vocabulary (cats, points of intersection with otherworlds etc.)

There's a sense of incompleteness about it. Not just unfinished characters and plots, but also an overall mood of sketchiness. I can't make up my mind whether this story about one night in Tokyo (each chapter is preceded by a timestamp and a clockface to make sure we get the point) is all surface or not. The Millions has little doubt about its insubstantiality, attesting that Japan's most renowned novelist "has ceased to care whether what he cares to show us actually matters. Or is even interesting."

The underlying poetics reminded me of Edward Hopper's paintings, and one in particular, Automat, reproduced below. (Murakami's books apparently often start with characters sitting around rather listlessly in cafes because that is usually the author's own situation when he starts to craft the opening scenes of a new novel.)

It's also notable for the way it attempts to represent the action through the words of a somewhat disembodied first person plural narrator.

There's a Tokyo love hotel (what the Guatemalans call an OMNI) in the story named Alphaville, apparently a reference to the movie by Jean-Luc Goddard but which in fact made me think of that 80s pop smash by the group of that name: Big in Japan! (see video) A child of the 60s, my cultural references were irrevocably set during the Thatcher years!

The title of the book also references a great jazz piece by trombonist Curtis Fuller, Five Spot After Dark, which is now in my iTunes library thanks to Murakami.

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