{Book Review} After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After DarkA short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

After Dark moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency—the interplay between self-expression and empathy, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami’s trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery.*

It was the last week of 2012 before I realized that I had blog challenges for myself. While I have given up the 2012 Debut Author Challenge for naught, I remembered that my personal challenge to finally read a Haruki Murakami book once and for all still has hope. I happened to have a copy of After Dark ready, and because I was sick for a couple of days, I had all the time in the world to devour all 191 pages of it.

Managed to cram a review in before 2012 ends! Which is in, like, 9 hours. (Philippine time, GMT +8)

 

So how was my Murakami experience? The first and only word that brands itself in my mind at the moment is surreal. This is a story set after hours – after the sun has set and dissolving as the sun’s rays penetrate the horizon. Unlike what you would expect for a book set in this time frame, though, the pace is rather slow. Murakami has a way of weaving strange curiosities into his writing, making you feel like an entity that is invisible, and everywhere all at the same time. I don’t know if this was brought on by being in my sickbed, but reading the whole thing felt like a dream. Details and such just floated beyond me, and what remained was an odd mixture of desolation and a burning desire to understand what was going on. I felt like I belonged to the world of Mari and Takahashi and the other characters, people who seemed so mysterious and fascinating in the veil of night, wandering as everything is cloaked in impenetrable darkness dusted with the light of the moon.*

One of my favorite quotes from this book was by Mari Asai:

“You know what I think?” she says. “That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed ’em to the fire, they’re all just paper.”

There’s a darkly whimsical element in the book that kept me curious all throughout. This wasn’t even a plot-driven kind of book, but because of Murakami’s skill, I enjoyed it in all its passiveness and floaty quality. Honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it. I still couldn’t understand the deal with Mari’s sister, Eri, and her peculiar sojourn into the television set, among other things. However, I’m choosing to just go with the flow and accept my inability to understand, so that I can appreciate the way it was written, and because it is beautiful.

*Aaaand here was my attempt to sound poetic. Forgive me. I had Moonlight Sonata playing in the background and I somehow got into the zone.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

191 pages
Author: Haruki Murakami
Original Language: Japanese
Published: 2000
Genre: Fantasy, Magic Realism

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{Book Review} Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry by Neil Gaiman and the Twitterverse

“Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled, and said, “We don’t love you anymore.” So began the Twitter Audio project, with a dazzling first line penned by New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman. What followed was an epic tale of imaginary lands, magical objects, haunting melodies, plucky sidekicks, menacing villains, and much more. 

From mystical blue roses to enchanted mirrors to pesky puppets, this classic fable was born from the collective creativity of more than one hundred contributors via the social network Twitter.com in a groundbreaking literary experiment. Together, virtual strangers crafted a rollicking story of a young girl’s journey with love, forgiveness, and acceptance.”*

This is the first audio book I actually finished so this will always have a special place in my heart. Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry is a the result of a collaborative effort by Neil Gaiman and the Twitterverse, wherein the famous author gets the ball rolling by tweeting the first sentence, and the rest of the world pitches in. The result was then turned by BBC into a script for an audiobook. 

I admit I was at first doubtful at the resulting quality of the story. Many a time have I tried playing that game where a person writes a sentence, and then another one continues it, and so on, and the resulting plot almost always turned out to be messy. Because of this, I steeled myself for what the outcome might be. After almost two hours, I resurfaced quite reluctantly into the normal world. Needless to say, I really loved it. Everyone who contributed managed to spin a beautiful tale of adventure and redemption, and I couldn’t help but root for Sam all throughout. I was very pleased at the resulting twists and revelations. Imagine all the contributors reading every tweet as they came and figuring out the best course of action to take for Sam and the other characters! It was brilliant, and I’m so happy for everyone who contributed to the story. I also commend Katherine Kellgren for her wonderful job on narrating. I was quite scared of listening to an audio book for fear that it would not be able to retain my attention, but her skill in adapting the best voice for each character and the emotions they felt were not lost to me. I really enjoyed the whole listening experience. 

This is indeed a very good starting audio book for those who want to try listening to them. You can download the audio books here. Enjoy!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

Audiobook from Audible

Authors: Neil Gaiman and the Twitterverse

Original Language: English

Published: Feb. 8, 2010 by BBC Audiobooks America

{Book Review} The Night Circus

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.”*

I have never been to the circus. I know, it’s really sad. I have heard so much about it, but the circus is still something of an enigma to me. There are stories of trapeze swingers and fire eaters, and it really saddens me how I’ve never witnessed any of those, which was why I was particularly drawn to this new book, which was released just September of last year. Aside from my lack of circus experience as the reason for picking this up, I also liked the echoes of the movie The Prestige that were eminent in the synopsis at the back cover. I am sucker for stories like that, so I eagerly devoured this as well.

“The circus arrives without warning.”

This is the opening line of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel “The Night Circus”, and you’ve got to admit, that line’s really strong. It feels like the type of line people would say first as they grapple about how to describe this novel. I finished this book the other day but I couldn’t bring myself to write a review since I had a Lit midterm yesterday. Now that I got that out of the way, I can finally spazz about how much I loved this book! I have heard nothing but good reviews about this book, and I must say, I was not disappointed. In fact, I liked it so much I’m planning to have the UK HB edition delivered (because it’s so pretty and totally worth it). Before I explain why I love this book so much, though, let me give you a little preview.

This book is set in 19th century England, but it sometimes shows up in other timelines and LOTS of other places, so be prepared. It’s about two magicians, representing two schools of thought, pitting their students against each other in a competition which would only end if one of them dies. One of the students is Celia Bowen, daughter of famous magician commonly known as Prospero the Enchanter, while the other is Marco Alisdair, protege of a certain Mr. A. H—- (though it has been revealed at one point that his real name is Alexander). Celia and Marco fall in love, which further complicates things. Their duel, which lasts a lifetime (literally), involves a circus called Le Cirque des Reves, which differs from other circuses by having multiple tents instead of only one, open only at night, and leaves without notice of where its next location might be. Apart from that, there’s something about the circus that rings true to its English translation, the Circus of Dreams. There are the usual attractions of acrobats, fortune tellers, Hall of Mirrors, and illusionists, but there are more curiously named attractions such as the Wishing Tree, the Cloud Maze, and the Labyrinth. Things are more than what they seem, and in Le Cirque des Reves, the illusions are so real they could be magic, which they very well are.

The Night Circus is told from several points of view, more than ten of them, not placed in a linear order. What adds to this book’s charm is how each chapter is reminiscent of the circus: brief, but enough to keep you hooked. Morgenstern employs imagery and vivid descriptions of the setting, leaving you with sensory overload and a desire to go to the circus, and to travel around the world, as the circus does.

What I really liked about this book is how it doesn’t focus on the romantic aspect. I mean, it’s there, but somehow it doesn’t turn the whole story into a pile of pink mush. It is there to push the story along, and is told as the story of two people within the story, because even though Celia and Marco were the ones focused on, you could tell how important all the other characters were. The circus is described in such detail, but how it actually looks is left to your own interpretation. It is such a vital part of the story that somehow I think it is a character and not a setting, because even though it is not indicated, you know the circus breaths and thrives and survives as much as the other characters do. The characters, the attractions, the decorations, everything makes the circus, and somehow the circus also makes them. It’s rather complicated to explain, but if you read it you’ll see what I mean. Another thing I commend is Erin Morgenstern’s writing. Her prose is sophisticated and it doesn’t feel wordy at all. Her words are appropriate for the setting, and she leaves just enough for you to reflect on long after you’ve read the final words. I have been researching her while reading this book (that’s how much I love it) and I found out that she is also an artist. She said in one interview, “I write what I can’t paint and I paint what I can’t write” which, for me, adds a lot of amazing points.

Like I mentioned before, The Night Circus is told in a nonlinear fashion. In one chapter everything’s from your point of view, in the present day, while in the next it is in 19th century England from the point of view of a magician. The next chapter could occur decades into the future. It seems confusing at first, but the more you read the more it makes sense. Details that seem mundane and something mentioned in passing are reiterated in another scene, and suddenly they are important. I remember doubling back after I read a detail about the scent of ginger and cream that I read several pages ago. It’s become like an Easter egg hunt, and it makes me want to read the book again just so I can find everything.

I recommend this for everyone, even if fantasy isn’t really your genre of choice. Let is sweep you away! It offers more than you would expect from a story about a circus and its folk, because it’s got a bit of everything in it. At some point in the story you’ll find adventure, mystery, romance, even a bit of the paranormal, and all of these elements come together in a glorious mix that will keep you reading all day and night. Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel is impressive, and I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. It is confusing at first, but I tell you to stick with it and it all comes together, as it should.


In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Original Language: English
Published: 2011, Doubleday, New York
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
P.S. I heard Summit Entertainment got the film rights to this book. I got mixed feelings about it, but I’m glad they recognize the beauty of the book enough to turn it into a movie.