Monday, July 19, 2021

Double Mini-Reviews, Murakami Edition: Ft. After Dark & What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Publication: April 29th, 2008
Paperback. 244 pages.

About After Dark:
"The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. 

Later, Mari is interrupted again by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, and she needs Mari's help. 

Meanwhile Mari's beautiful sister Eri sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is 'to perfect, too pure' to be normal; she has lain asleep for two months. But tonight a the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television's plug has been pulled out. Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?"

After Dark is one of the few full length novels from Murakami that I still hadn't read, and I'm sorry I didn't get to it sooner because it's definitely become one of my favorites. This novel takes place over the course of a single night in Tokyo and follows a few rather charmingly eccentric characters, as one might expect from any Murakami novel. 

The story's overarching narrative follows two sisters, Eri and Mari, though we spend most of time exploring from Mari's perspective as she encounters a variety of interesting people and takes part in some different activities over the course of the night. Each and every person mentioned in this book has some sort of connection to one or more characters, some expected and some entirely unexpected, and it is these connections that really allow the narrative to flow and tell of this night in Tokyo. We encounter a variety of stories and experiences shared by individual characters, tidbits from unique lives, pleasant (and unpleasant) conversations, musings on life, and some occasional chapters focusing on Eri's life that take things to a much more abstract and difficult to explain level. I wouldn't necessarily call it magical realism in this book, but there are certainly some odd observations in those chapters that added some incredibly complexity and depth to the overarching narrative. 

After Dark is not a fast-paced story by any means, but it reads incredibly quickly and I found it as engaging to read as many of Murakami's other novels. There is something beautifully simplistic about the translation and writing while also maintaining the ability to convey some incredible philosophical insights and insightful comments. The ending was perfect to me in the sense that it was exactly what I would've expected and wanted from Murakami. It's very much a more open-ended conclusion, so I can see why some people may not like it, but I think it worked and matched the tone perfectly for this story. 

Overall, it was an easy five stars from me for After Dark

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Publication Date: August 11th, 2009
Paperback. 190 pages.

About What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
"An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami. While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami's decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit."

I'd been meaning to pick up this book for a number of years, but for some reason only recently got around to it. This is different from Murakami's other work that I've read largely in the fact that it is a nonfiction piece with some heavy autobiographical notes. This book was written on the premise of Murakami keeping a journal of his thoughts and musings while training for a marathon (which, in case you didn't know–Murakami has completed numerous marathons and other competitions over the course of his life!). However, I would say that this book is so much more than that and truly stood out to me as a piece of writing that I will come back to over and over again in the future. 

You don't have to be a runner or a writer to read this book or take away some truly thoughtful ideas and insightful musings on life from it. For Murakami, running is a part of his writing process, and the idea of training for marathons and working on his running was vital to his ability to stay focused on his writing and meet regular deadlines. Because of this, we get a glimpse into his writing process and what it is that he thinks makes him a successful, steady writer. Murakami is one of the most honest voices I've read, and in doing so he is both humble and confident in his abilities. Everything he says is very much matter-of-fact, neither bragging nor denying accomplishments, and it is this voice that makes him such a compelling and admirable figure. It was affirming in a sense to read about his own struggle and how he has overcome the obstacles that pop into his life with dedication and determination. He has an incredibly frank view of life, and one that is full of wonder and respect, all of which really stood out to me. 

One theme that I didn't expect from this book was that of aging and Murakami's gradual acceptance of growing older and learning how his body and mind change. Many of the things he discusses are topics that I myself have worried about in regards to getting older, despite the fact that I am still in my twenties, and it was reassuring to see that I'm not nearly alone in dealing with these thoughts. His meditations on growing older, and on life in general, were very eye-opening and meaningful from me, and I really can't emphasize enough how much I appreciated and loved every page of this book. Although it is a translation, his writing is smooth, easy to read, and draws in readers easily with plain language and a voice that is friendly and approachable. 

It's another five stars from me for this book--what can I say, Murakami remains one of my favorite writers! What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a book that I still think about since finishing and that I think I will continue to think back on and revisit whenever I need a bit of a palate cleanser for my brain. Murakami is always the perfect reset for my mind!

1 comment:

  1. I've always been curious about What I Talk About...but thought it wouldn't make sense to me since I'm not a runner. Now I think I need a copy!