I 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?