After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Trans. by Jay Rubin

2004. 191 pages. Hardcover.

From: the public library

In a nutshell:

The book follows a small group of characters over the course of one night.  19-year-old Mari reads by herself in an all-night diner and meets an acquaintance from the past.  This chance meeting indirectly draws Mari into the aftermath of a violent attack on a Chinese prostitute.  Meanwhile, Mari’s sister Eri deeply sleeps where an unplugged tv ominously flickers.


I was intrigued about this book when I read a review of it in the blog, Book Dilettante.  I like movies where events happen over the course of one night, so I liked the idea of After Dark: surreal encounters that occur while most are asleep.  Also, I wanted to read a book by Haruki Murakami.  I know that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore are more known and liked, but After Dark was the one on the shelf at the library.

I liked the weird aspects of the small book, such as the strangeness that surrounds Eri’s sleep.  Or how a turn in the plot finds an abandoned cell phone ringing in a store, where anyone who picks it up hears threats on their life.

I was disappointed in the book overall, though.  I wasn’t expecting a grand story, but for a book that is the equivalent of an all-nighter, I was hoping to feel a more coherent mood and atmosphere.  I got that in spots, but not as the whole.

Mostly, though, I didn’t care for the writing style.  I’m thinking a large part of this could be a translation issue.  The dialogue didn’t feel natural and came off very flat, almost as if the wrong English words were chosen in the effort to approximate casual talk.  There were ‘gonna’s’ and “whaddya mean’ and stuff like that.  And so, so, many ‘uh-huh’s’.  As I’ve watched some Japanese films, I’m guessing that the ‘uh-huh’ is a translation of the Japanese quick assenting “hai”.  I’d rather the ‘hai’ have been kept, really.  I don’t think that uh-huh’s even accurately capture the English noise of assent.

A different type of stylistic choice that I didn’t care for was the ‘we’ perspective held throughout the book.  ‘We’ are the swooping camera observing these characters, particularly with Eri’s scenes, which makes some sense as that character is a model.  But I found this perspective to be artificial and cumbersome, rather than thought-provoking.

I’m not going to take this book as an indicator of my future reaction to Murakami and it won’t keep me from trying another book of his.  If you have read Murakami, recommendations are welcome.  Also, has anyone read a translated book and suspected that the translation was inadequate?  I’d be interested to hear if others have experienced this.


Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal

9 responses to “After Dark by Haruki Murakami

  1. I really enjoy Murakami, so I’m sorry to hear that this one wasn’t all that good (haven’t read this one yet). I definitely recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is the best of what I’ve read so far (and the translation is fantastic in that it feels natural). I’m actually surprised you didn’t like the translation – I’ve read several books Rubin has translated and I’ve always thought he did a great job.

    I’ve also read A Wild Sheep Chase andHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but those are a little weird and less accessible than Wind-Up.

    In general, his stuff is very post-modern, so there are plenty of weird things going on no matter what you read. Kafka on the Shore is on my to-read list, so I’ll let you know how that is when I get around to it.

  2. farmlanebooks

    I have found lots of translated books to have problems. I’m sorry to hear you had difficulty with this book, like Scott I am surprised you had problems as Rubin is supposed to be fantastic.

    I recommend Kafka on the Shore – unless you have a special love for cats. It is my favourite Murakami by a long way.

  3. Eva

    I enjoyed Norwegian Wood-that’s my only Murakami so far.

    Translations are so difficult! I’ve often wondered if it’s the author or the translator with some of the books I read. 🙂

  4. I was just reading back through your posts…you absolutely need to read The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. It’s one of my favourites. Books on the NIghtstand is not wrong (love those peeps)!

  5. Jason

    I’ve only read Kafka on the Shore through my old book club. I was surprised at how weird yet enjoyable the book was — I found it very hard to put down. I’ve been meaning to read another book by Murakami, so maybe this year…
    I’m actually in the middle of a Filipino book that is in it’s third translation, and I’m not sure it’s the best one. The editors have missed some puncutation, the footnotes have run amok, and the sentence structure should have been altered when translated from the Spanish. Despite that, I’m invested in the book since the author, Jose Rizal, has succeeded in making me want to punch a priest. That’s probably why the author was executed back in the 1800’s.

    • Jason

      Obviously no editors have been involved in my comment, either! “It’s” instead of “its”? At least I have the excuse that I wasn’t an English major.

    • If you’re going to read another Murakami book, I highly recommend Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s also weird, yet enjoyable.

  6. Scott and farmlanebooks: It is hard to know if it is the writing or the translation, but with some relief, I saw that a few reviewers on goodreads also speculated on possible translation problems with After Dark, citing awkward dialogue among other things.

    Thanks all for the praise of other Murakami works – not sure which will be next – maybe I’ll leave it to what happens to be on the library shelf again.

    Aimee, thanks for stopping by and for further confirmation on the must-read status of The Secret History.

    Jason – wow, your read sounds intriguing despite the translation problems. Let me know what you think of it once you’ve finished.

    • Jason

      This version of the book gets worse — two pages at the end of one of the chapters are missing. I’d recommend an earlier translation if at all possible. The book, Noli Me Tangere, starts off slow, but the plot has been building up and is on a roll now. And the protaganist feels the same way I do — the priest has been punched. I’ll let you know my take when I’m done.

Join the Discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s