Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart – Sweet Contemplation

Sputnik SweetheartI remember wanting to read Sputnik Sweetheart when it first came out and I spotted it on the tables in the bookshops. I’ve read a few Murakami novels starting with when I was a young teenager and picked Dance, Dance, Dance off my Dad’s shelf – and while I wasn’t expecting such a dreamlike plot-line, I found it absorbing, curious and strangely addictive which lead me to read A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, The The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I inherited my copy of Sputnik Sweetheart after an old flatmate left it behind so I’ve kept it safe and found a good excuse to read it for Dolce Belezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge.

The narrator, a teacher, is in love with the beguiling, odd Sumire. As his best friend, she is not averse to phoning at three or four in the morning to ask a pointless question or share a strange thought. Sumire, though, is in love with a beautiful, older woman, Miu, who does not, can not, return her affections. Longing for Sumire, K (that is all we are told by way of a name) finds some comfort in a purely sexual relationship with the mother of one of his pupils. But the consolation is slight. K is unhappy. Miu and Sumire, now working together, take a business trip to a Greek Island. Something happens, he is not told what, and so K travels to Greece to see what help he can offer.

The main themes of the book centre around loneliness and alienation. All the characters are lonely in their own way and are joined together (or separated – however you want to see it) by unrequited love. They have loving friendships but there are insurmountable barriers between them. Sumire has lesbian feelings for Miu, which she finds confusing and seems to spark a sort of untapped desire in her. This unusual love triangle creates a beautiful but melancholic feel to the novel similar to that which I found in On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan.

Communication is very important in the novel, whether it be through writing (Sumire is an aspiring author) or by telephone (Sumire often calls K from a telephone booth at random times in the morning). It links the characters together but it also emphasises their separation as if they in two different worlds. Sounds odd? It is a little and the book gets quite dreamlike and obscure towards the end.

I found this to be a very sweet novel in the sense that I really felt the strength of the characters emotions for each other and it left me in a contemplative mood. As I mentioned, it does get a little abstract towards the end, but that is typical of Murakami’s writing! That did leave me feeling a little unsatisfied, but then that I suppose reflects the mood of the novel.

Reading it a few months after visiting Japan it was a joy to be able to imagine some of the places that are referred to in the novel .This was definitely a book I looked forward to picking up and ‘exploring’ and very much enjoyed the beautiful writing. I am quite in awe of how Murakami manages to evoke such beautiful images and metaphors with relatively sparse content (it’s a quick read) and at the same time creating a story that is a pleasure to read. His writing makes me think without making my head hurt, or feeling that it is a chore to read.

Recommended for when you fancy reading something a bit different. A taste of Murakami in it’s shortest form.

Have you read any Murakami or other Japanese authors that you enjoyed?

19 responses to “Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart – Sweet Contemplation

  1. How wonderful: to read Japanese literature after a visit to Japan!

    I have only read one example of Japanese literature and it was Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood.’ I can’t decide which Murakami to read next, have you a favourite so far?

    • It’s difficult to say about Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance as it was about 10 years ago, but I must have enjoyed them as I read more! I enjoyed The Wind up Bird Chronicle very much.

      How was Norwegian Wood?

  2. I read this earlier this year and felt similarly to you; it was an absorbing and surreal read but I was left a little dissatisfied. I preferred The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark; I’m planning on reading Norwegian Wood soon.

    I would love to visit Japan and am most envious of the time you spent there.

    • I enjoyed The Wind-up Bird Chronicle too. How was After Dark? If it’s something you want to do you should definitely make sure you do plan a trip to Japan it’s such a unique experience.

  3. Definitely one day. I really enjoyed After Dark; it is short but very surreal.

    • I think you like surreal, no? After all you must to enjoy Kafka. I have to admit that talking about it in a group made me appreciate its merits more…

  4. Oh I do like surreal and that was most definitely an advocation although I found Sputnik a little *too* surreal for my tastes … discussing it in a group would probably have helped.

  5. I love the title of this book, but, haven’t read it yet. I’ve read a couple of Murakamis and Ishiguros and find them to be surreal – but, that’s why I love them!

    Norwegian Wood is one of the Murakamis I’ve read, and I actually really enjoyed it, despite the story being quite depressing.

    Planning on reading Kafka On The Shore next…

  6. Murakami writes of loneliness and alienation better than any one I know. It’s like he can tap into the heart of our deepest sorrows, and I feel no boundary of culture or gender. I really want to read this one. I loved Kafka, by the way, reading it once last year and once this year. It was my first Murakami novel.

    • Hi Bellezza, thanks for visiting! You should definitely read it. I love how he evokes a feeling of melancholy without actually making me want to cry.

  7. this is one of my favorite murakami’s 🙂

    I don’t read romance and that’s why I like this book…tho it is sort of romance book but it’s not a typical romance…it’s a complicated and beautiful romance

  8. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge #3 Round-up « Novel Insights

  9. Oh I loved On Chesil Beach! So despite my earlier reservations, I think you’ve convinced me to read this book (JLC4 perhaps?).

    I love it when Murakami does dreamlike. He has a certain flair of doing it that’s just lovable even if things can get quite puzzling most of the time 🙂

    The only Murakami I’ve read so far is Norwegian Wood, After Dark, after the quake, and his memoir. Blind Willow I’ve already started but still haven’t finished.

    This is quite a lovely review. Thanks 🙂

    • Hmm, definitely a good one for JLC4. It’s not a huge investment of time either as it’s quite short. I’d like to read Norwegian Wood. I also started Blind Willow and didn’t finish it!

  10. Oh I think you’ll like Norwegian Wood. There’s nothing magical or fantastic about the story, and there are probably just two or three scenes that bear a slightly surreal or dreamlike atmosphere, so it should be perfectly safe for your tastes 🙂 Actually, I’ve heard a few people not liking that book because they were looking for Murakami’s signature surrealism.

  11. I’ve read all of his books (well, at least those that have been translated) and i love them. I got really interested in japanese culture because of his books, i really wolud love to travel to Japan. I think my favourite is “South of the border, west of the sun”, great atmosphere, great characters, and of course surreal.

    • I can definitely see myself reading all Murakami’s novels – they are just so fascinating and original. I’ll have to read South of the Border, West of the Sun some day – thanks for the recommendation!

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