Last night, I picked Kazuo Ishiguro's A Village After Dark at random. Ishiguro's other works are a lot more popular, especially his Never Let Me Go, which I still see on someone's blog every month. Because of all the hype, it could be a while before I read the book, but I saw the story as a chance to sample his writing.
When A Village After Dark begins, an old man named Fletcher is navigating his way through the streets of a village in England, trying to find something that jogs his memory. The village used to be like home to him once, in days of his youth, when he was also a very popular figure in the area. He used to give speeches and get people inspired to do something and work towards a common goal. But it is never mentioned what exactly the nature of his talks were - were they political, religious, or social? When he finally arrives at a door, he decides to knock, just in case it is someone who recognizes him. At the same time, a young girl who had pursued him keeps telling him how much she had heard of him and his friends, and how her friend Wendy was very sure it was Fletcher when he passed them earlier.
A Village After Dark is a very strange story, but it was also a very intellectual one. As I read the story, there was something at the back of my mind saying something was amiss. I couldn't quite put my finger to it - but it sounded to me like a Murakami world, where the rules were different from those we know, and people did anything weird and didn't perceive it as weird. Was this one of those worlds? Where a man can just go barging into some strange house, walk in, and even sleep in that house without the hosts getting antsy?
Or was this an old man who had gone senile, and was thus imagining all his actions from his warped yardstick, and therefore they make sense to him, but the other characters aren't really acting as he claimed them to be? The town that's described sounded very decrepit that it could have been a post-apocalyptic setting or an impoverished village that had seen good times. Many houses looked rundown, and the people were all described as being dressed in tatters. Funnily, most of those people had the sense that they were doing much better than the other person. Fletcher himself kept mentioning many times how he was one of the more important people, and some of his friends weren't and that the people shouldn't really worship his less-important friends so much.
But my strongest feeling was that this was a dream. In dreams, time and space have no meaning. The manner in which time slowed when Fletcher asserted his importance, and how it seemed to speed up at other times was interesting. It was also fascinating how one character appeared to always have been there waiting for him, right when he was left alone and looking for what to do next. Or it could also have been that the real Fletcher is in a coma or in that place between life and death.
I enjoyed A Village After Dark more than I expected to. When I started reading it, I was quite perplexed with whatever felt amiss to me that I considered putting it down. But at the same time, the strangeness of the story intrigued me, because clearly there is something that is not quite right in this world. I also appreciated that we never know what kind of talks Fletcher gave, since it fit well with any of the possible scenarios - how the leaders come and go and how their talks 10 years ago could be inappropriate now. Although it isn't ever stated clearly what kind of setting it was, the story left me thoughtful about all the possible options. If A Village After Dark were a book, it would definitely be a book club worthy one.
I read this story online on the The New Yorker.