Casual acquaintances and complete strangers alike meet and pass during the small hours of a Tokyo night, in the terse, riddling new novel from Japanese master Murakami (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, stories, 2006, etc.).
Its characters are ships in the night that carry cargoes of suppressed emotion and unresolved desires; hence their interactions comprise a spare narrative quite different from Murakami’s hip, weird epics (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore) and more reminiscent of such plaintive tales of unrequited or misdirected affections as Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart. It begins “around midnight” as young trombonist Takahashi invites himself to join college student Mari, as she’s studying in an all-night Denny’s restaurant. Though he recalls meeting her while courting the attention of Mari’s beautiful sister Eri, Mari seems indifferent—until Takahashi (realizing Mari speaks Chinese) persuades her to assist his friend Kaoru (who manages an all-night “love hotel”) in helping a Chinese prostitute who’s been savagely beaten by one of her johns. Characters thus brought together subsequently split off, as Murakami’s omniscient narrator focuses alternately on the abusive john (a computer specialist, Shirakawa) and on the aforementioned Eri, who is observed languishing in a death-like sleep from which she emerges only randomly and briefly—and whose mysterious condition is somehow linked to Shirakawa. The connection is never fully explained, as the advancing hours bring the sleepless in and out of one another’s orbits, and the realistic details of Murakami’s enigmatic plot are deployed to suggest how—whether by design or by chance—we are all simultaneously involved in one another’s lives and prohibited from fully understanding, or even entering, other people’s “worlds.” The result is a pellucid dramatization of disconnection, alienation, the hunger for human contact and the strategies by which we all manage to “make it through the night.”
A seductive and gratifying intellectual and romantic adventure.