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After Dark

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.


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(Deleted comment)
Jul. 8th, 2007 08:49 am (UTC)
nice hat :)

i liked AFTER THE QUAKE, though i did especially like that first story. those final pages of him in the room with the box are cool. the god one, though, i could take or leave.

i've liked BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN, though i've not read it all yet. but generally speaking i quite enjoy murakami's short work.
Jul. 8th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)
You're right, that passage is quite nice.

But I think translations into other languages can majorly screw with the "rhythm and melody" of fiction he is talking about. As hard as translators work, sometimes that can't come across too well.

I'm a big fan of Murakami's too, but I'm not sure if it has anything to do with his sentence-to-sentence "rhythmic stylistics" because, though I am an intermediate speaker of Japanese at best, I realise that it has a very different sentence structure to English, further complicated by particles and other linguistic idiosyncrasies.

Style, which is what I assume Murakami is talking about when he talks about rhythm, is really hard to replicate into different languages. It's the reason Gogol's deft use of Russian is almost untranslatable, why Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is never as good when it is rendered into a verse translation of "modern English" and why Italo Calvino is so much better in Italian.

So, while it is a nice thought, I'm not sure that this very musical way of writing of his is what appeals, at least for me.
Jul. 8th, 2007 06:35 am (UTC)
Unless one understands the native language, then translation is all we've got.

We just always have to keep in mind that we're reading a translation.

---factory farmer
Jul. 8th, 2007 06:46 am (UTC)
oh yeah, of course, I'm just saying that his whole rhythm thing he's talking about isn't apparent to me, or at least it's not why I like his stuff, specifically because it is a translation.
Jul. 8th, 2007 06:55 am (UTC)
That's the thing about translation. We know that we're losing/gaining but we don't know to what extent without someone telling us.

But yeah it wouldn't surprise me if the rhythm is lost.

---factory farmer
Jul. 8th, 2007 09:17 am (UTC)
that said, however, i do think there are rythms to the work. stylistically, however, they're not what draws me in--but you can pick up some of his influences, especially the carver, in his work.
Jul. 8th, 2007 08:54 am (UTC)
oh, yeah. i don't particularly find murakami's translated language very rythmic, though there's a difference in the translators. perhaps the first translations (HARD BOILED, for example, by baubaum (?)) captures a sense of lyricness best.

the quote's mostly there cause i dig it, and cause it allowed me to talk about AFTER DARK.
Jul. 8th, 2007 12:38 pm (UTC)
>But I think translations into other languages can majorly screw with the "rhythm and melody" of fiction he is talking about.


I don't speak or read Japanese. I did get to go to a Murakami reading a few years back and he read the beginning of Super Frog Saves Tokyo in Japanese. Completely different rhythm than that of the English reading that someone else did afterwards.
Jul. 8th, 2007 06:30 am (UTC)
I continue the enjoyable experience of reading Murakami.

One of the things I like about After Dark is that it's short.

---factory farmer
Jul. 8th, 2007 08:55 am (UTC)
yeah, but so is SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN, and that sucks :)
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