Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful.
--Haruki Murakami, New York Times.
The above is taken from a fairly slight essay written by Murakami to promote his new novel, After Dark. It's one of those essays authors write because they want you to buy their book and it's just for promotion, and Murakami, who I enjoy immensely, knows it, and the whole thing lacks any real content. The above quote is nice, however.
During the week, I happened to read Murakami's After Dark, and was quite satisfied by it. Set in one evening in Tokyo--it begins just before midnight, and ends just as the sun comes up--it follows the lives of six or so characters, and their connections to each other, and the meditations on this here modern life that Murakami wishes to note. It is, actually, a novel that will appeal to fans of Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, A Wild Sheep Chase, and Dance, Dance, Dance and other earlier Murakami novels (and the short fiction, both old and new), than it will those who have come to enjoy the big novels such as Kafka on the Shore and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and the love story novels that interspace them. However, the true attraction of After Dark is watching Murakami do something different. The biggest flaw within his work is that he is a touch repetitive. Loner males who listen to sixties pop and have identical first person narrator voices pretty much explains all of his novel output to date, just for an example. However, while the music is still there in After Dark, the use of the omniscient, almost script like third person narration, and his use of prostitutes, musicians who will never be, failed wrestlers, girls who sleep, and girls who don't, as characters, is nicely refreshing.
It's not a perfect book. The end doesn't quite stick together--but they haven't, not since Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, at least for me--and to be honest, I could have done with the novel being a bit dirtier, a bit rougher, and a bit bloodier, since that's how I like my inner urban stories of violence and loss and despair. Since Murakami is not known for that at all, I can hardly call foul that it's not there. I could also have done with a bit more of a natural, stylised voice to the dialogue, but I'm unsure if this is a request to make of the translator or not--still, like the previous complaint, it's hardly what Murakami novels are known for, so fuck it, hey?
What After Dark does show, however, is Murakami's growth as an author--the growth that I first thought I saw at the end of the messy Kafka on the Shore, and which will hopefully continue into the next book.