Set during the course of seven hours, this short novel starts at midnight in some downtown cafe in Tokyo where 19 year old Mari is sitting alone reading, drinking just enough coffee not to be asked to leave by the staff. A man, a couple of years older, asks if he can join her. The two don’t think they know each other, but after some conversation it becomes apparent that they were two of a four that made up a double-date a couple of years ago, when the young man was going out (briefly) with Mari’s sister, Eri. Round the corner in Alphaville, a love hotel, a young Chinese prostitute is beaten by her client, who leaves taking all of her clothes and possessions.
This is the closest experience I have had to reading a dream. It is like something taking place in behind the curtain in the White Lodge in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Something just the other side of normal.
Two months previously, the utterly beautiful sister Eri, announced to her family at the evening meal, that she was going to sleep. And she appears to have been asleep since. They know she occasionally eats, showers and gets changed, but they never see her do these things. And always she goes back to sleep. There is no disorder that doctors can find, she is just asleep. In some chapters we drift into the room where Eri is sleeping, our presence is described “as a pure point of view” and we watch this sleeping beauty. Occasionally she appears to sleepwalk around the room, unable to find the door. As the book progresses her sleep is more disturbed, until one day the bed is empty. Eri, is eventually found, asleep in the same bed in the same room, but as an image in the TV in her room.
Meanwhile a strange motorcyclist, some gang member / pimp in charge of the rescued prostitute turns up at Alphaville and take the photocopies of the print outs of the images of the violent client, off the CCTV. This client, a ‘company man’, goes back to his empty office and works through the night before heading home in the hours just before dawn.
There are unattended mobile phones that ring and are answered by random people. There are conversations about film, coffee, dating, jazz and whether there are different types of nothing when you die. It is Murakami wrapped up into a deliberately tight timeframe. It feels saturated in false light. It is one of those books you settle in and read in one go. The sentences are short. And they glisten.