Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is, by any chance, a bad book. My low rating can be easily explained by the fact that I've already read too much Murakami. I used to like him quite a lot, but come on, doesn't he get tired of writing the same book over and over again? Let me show you the pattern. A simple guy who likes to 1.
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It is usually all too easy to say why a piece of fiction doesn't work. Clunky writing, glaring credibility gaps, predictable storylines - all are a cinch to detect, dissect and generally rail against. Sometimes it's just as easy to explain why a novel is wonderful: when you can see what a classy writer is doing with language and narrative and, though it may make you catch your breath, you're not lost for words of your own to describe it.
All too rarely, a different sort of novel altogether comes along. One that works - that, yes, entertains, captivates and energises you, the reader - but, when you try to define its magic, pin down its themes or even grasp its story, just slithers away out of reach. It's that very slipperiness, of course, which makes it complex and demanding, but also infuriatingly seamless.
How to begin to describe what it is or does? So I'll come right out and say it: I don't really know what Murakami's startling new novel is about. But it has touched me deeper and pushed me further than anything I've read in a long time. K, the narrator, is a sober, solitary, kind and intelligent young primary-school teacher in Tokyo.
Sumire has dropped out of college and is bent on becoming a novelist. She smokes too much, clumps around in rough workboots and "an oversized herringbone coat from a second-hand shop" and wants to be a character in a Kerouac novel - "wild, cool, dissolute".
Sumire and K are close, close friends - but platonic ones. In fact, Sumire believes she has fallen truly in love for the first time, with an enigmatic older woman called Miu who has given her a job in her wine company. Wondering whether this is the real thing - and does it mean she's lesbian? Always has been, always will be. But this is no straightforward will-they-won't-they-get-it-on story. The plot hots up: Sumire and Miu, who is innocent of Sumire's infatuation, go on a business trip together and end up on a Greek island for a short holiday.
One night, K gets a call from a deeply distressed Miu begging him to come to the island immediately; it's something to do with Sumire. He drops everything and goes. That's when the stories come apart to reveal each other in a suspenseful, hypnotic, Russian-doll kind of way. There are echoes of John Fowles's The Magus as the reasonable, likeable young narrator finds himself in a beautiful yet sinister place, wading deeper into mysterious waters, each new set of circumstances stranger and more seductive than the last.
But, though that would be incentive enough, it's not why you read on. And here's where the critic's job gets even harder. Murakami has given us a work so much larger and more pungent than the sum of its parts. His prose seems at first glance attractively lively, readable - comic, even. There are endless crunchy descriptions, perkily visceral phrases and definitions.
The characters are impeccably realised; recognisable, modern, real. Attempting to explain Sumire's androgynous idiosyncrasies, K says he "doubts she even knew bras come in different sizes". When Sumire gives up smoking, she loses her grip on things, "like some animal that's had its furry tail sliced off". Reality resembles "a cardigan with the buttons done up wrong"; when K arrives on the island, he tastes "the kind of air that felt like if you breathed it in, your lungs would be dyed the same shade of blue".
But go in further, relax and slide beneath that prose, and the result is like peeking over the edge of a precipice: dizzying and rather frightening. This is, I think, a novel about loneliness and isolation; about the painfully fragmentary nature of our effect upon one another - the terrifying thought that maybe not even real, human love forges connections, that space, time and inexplicable events will always snake their way between ourselves and others.
Though Murakami seems to invite us to join him in a straightforward mystery adventure, he in fact does something much more upsetting. He frees us from his narrative in much the same way that his characters finally shake loose of one another - he sends us spinning, orbiting wildly.
In doing so, he surely accomplishes the best, most unnerving job of fiction: to force you to look hard at the parts of yourself you never even suspected were there. Topics Books. Fiction Haruki Murakami reviews. Reuse this content. Most popular.
Thoughts on Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains - flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits' Sputnik Sweetheart. Twenty-two-year-old Sumire is in love with a woman seventeen years her senior. But whereas Miu is glamorous and successful, Sumire is an aspiring writer who dresses in an oversized second-hand coat and heavy boots like a character in a Kerouac novel. Surprised that she might, after all, be a lesbian, Sumire spends hours on the phone talking to her best friend K about the big questions in life: what is sexual desire and should she ever tell Miu how she feels for her.
An English translation by Philip Gabriel was then published in Sumire is an aspiring writer who survives on a family stipend and the creative input of her only friend, the novel's male narrator and protagonist, known in the text only as 'K'. K is an elementary school teacher, 25 years old, and in love with Sumire, though she does not quite share his feelings. At a wedding, Sumire meets an ethnic Korean woman, Miu, who is 17 years her senior. The two strike up a conversation, and Sumire finds herself attracted to the older woman.
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Simply put, if you buy a book I recommend, a very small percent contributes to the running costs of the blog. I was talking to my boss at work about Murakami, and he said how his favourite novel by him was Sputnik Sweetheart. I had not read it, and so I quickly got hold of it to change this. My edition the Vintage one you tend to see in bookshops, shown on the right has a semi-nude lady on the front, which made me wonder what territory I was getting into. Sumire is in love with a woman seventeen years her senior. But whereas Miu is glamorous and successful, Sumire is an aspiring writer who dresses in an oversized second-hand coat and heavy boots like a character in a Kerouac novel. Sumire spends hours on the phone talking to her best friend K about the big questions in life: what is sexual desire, and should she ever tell Miu how she feels for her?