Strengths: Murakami’s beautiful prose, the haunting scenes that stay in your memory.
Weaknesses: Some might say there are similarities to Norwegian Wood. Is that a bad thing?
Why I read it: Love Murakami’s work.
Setting: Japan, Greece
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
If you liked this, try: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
I enjoy Haruki Murakami’s books, but I don’t make any claim to understand and offer insight into some of the more surreal points of his narrative (such as Tom down the well in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle). I chose Sputnik Sweetheart to read because it looked somewhat linear, more in the vein of Norwegian Wood. Well, I was right and I was wrong. Some odd things do happen in this book but it does remind me somewhat of Norwegian Wood. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because I loved Norwegian Wood and would rank it as one of my favourite reads. (I watched the film trailer in Kinokuniya NAC many, many times). It’s just that the painful, silent suffering after a girl the male protagonist can’t have was a bit familiar this time round – this was a theme in both Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Others have likened this book to The Great Gatsby and I suppose there is a similar feeling, but I’d say that Sputnik Sweetheart is a lot stronger in its portrayal of longing, love and loss.
The story is told in the first person, but with a twist – the male protagonist tells us about his friend, Sumire (Violet) that he’s a little in love with and her love affair with Miu, a woman. He’s more of a narrator (especially later on) than an active character. The first half of the book plays it very straight and linear, describing the relationship blossoming between Sumire and Miu until they go away together. In Greece, Sumire disappears and doesn’t come back. Miu calls for help, but Sumire can’t be found. Miu then explains why she can’t fall in love with Sumire, which is where a ferris wheel and the surreal come into play. This helped to portray the loneliness and adrift feeling (I felt) of the characters once Miu had disappeared. Was the ferris wheel and Miu a symbol of Japanese culture – the society before the original? Maybe, maybe not. But it did make me think, even if I couldn’t work it out for sure.
The prose is as always, beautiful and magically able to convey the feelings, tones and emotions of each scene. Murakami and his translators are masters of this, especially the echoing feeling of loss and not being able to reach what you want that haunts this book.
A quick read; this satisfies my Murakami craving for now at least.