Only the second of Murakami’s books I have read, the sense of atmosphere in both (I read South of the Border, West of the Sun earlier in the year), is intense. In this novel which is best read “after dark”, the story takes place during one early morning in the city in Tokyo between the hours of midnight and 7am. There are no trains between these hours, anybody relying on public transport is in effect stuck in the city until morning.
19 year old Mari sits in an all night diner, reading and whiling away the time until the first train home. She is interruped by a boy who she knows vaguely through her sister. They talk, he leaves. She is interrupted again and finds herself helping out with a difficult situation at a nearby “love house”. Each chapter takes place at a progressively earlier hour of the morning and there is a palpable shift in atmsophere through these different parts of the night. I think we all have our experiences of the early hours of the morning, have at some stage been out all night and sat in one of those diners. For several years I periodically did night shifts in a quiet often eerie hospital. I can certainly relate to the night, the separate identity each hour claims, the different feelings each evokes. Murakami did an amazing job of recreating this for me.
The familiar themes of jazz, only children and cats appear in this story and well as the surreal element which in this case was Mari’s sister Eri. Eri spends most of the story sleeping as she has voluntarily been for the previous two months. Beautiful, untouchable…. and observed both by the reader through a series of “scene shots” and camera angles and by somebody we sense is less than friendly.
I’m not sure yet how I feel about the surreal aspect of Murakami’s writing. Intriguing definitely but seems to create more questions than answers. What I do love is how he can take something apparently simple such as a routine conversation and make it come alive with possibilities – how he instills a touch of magic into the mundane, a sense of the offbeat.
I can’t wait to experience another of his stories.
Published: 2007, 208 pages
translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin