Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author who has published many books in his long career and is well known for his strange stories that blur the line between dreams and reality. Having read “The Elephant Vanishes”, a collection of short stories published in 1993, I decided to read one of his more recent, lesser known works, “After Dark”, which was published in 2004.

As this was not my first Murakami story, I thought I would be prepared for the surreal nature of his storytelling. I couldn’t have been more wrong. “After Dark” takes place across a single night in Tokyo and the focus of the story alternates between two sisters - nineteen year old Mari and her older sister Eri.

Mari’s side of the story is the less confusing of the two, it is midnight and she is sitting at a “Denny’s” because she doesn’t want to go home. Soon however, she meets Takahashi and she is drawn into a night of jazz musicians, prostitutes and mobsters and meeting people with secrets which are only half revealed. The entire night is vibrant and colourful, with Murakami’s love for jazz clearly influencing the general tone of the book. Mari herself is an interesting character in that she is actually not involved in causing any of the events of the book, but merely acts as a translator for many other characters, given her ability to speak Chinese; she is more of an observer than anything else.

The other half of the novel goes beyond bizarre as we learn that Eri has been asleep for the past three months. Mari speaks about how she must be going to the toilet and eating, but none of the family ever see her. She is just asleep. The sections of the novel that explore this can only be described as an extended form of prose, in which the narrator explicitly acts as a camera and describes the motions in which “we” move around Eri’s room and watch her sleeping. It is unclear as to who the narrator is talking about, but the series of events that follow can only be described as mind-bending as Eri is absorbed into the TV in her room.

The relationship between the two sisters is perhaps key to understanding the novel. Even Takahashi seems interested in the differences between the sisters, and the constant changing perspective within each chapter, in addition to the idea that Mari refuses to sleep whilst her sister refuses to wake up, implying some sort of balance between the two. Mari admits to feeling like she never had a proper relationship with her sister and the two seem to have fallen into the trap that many young women do, with others seeing Mari as unattractive and inexperienced, whilst Eri is beautiful and desired.

Although I could not have expected the novel that I read, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would really recommend it.