I’ve never liked the question who is my favorite author, mostly because it’s one I can’t answer. However, there are a select few that elicit excitement from yours truly. When I see a particular work that I haven’t read from Haruki Murakami, it does generate this overwhelming need to have it by any means necessary. Since I first read The Windup-Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood a few years ago, I’ve had a rather deep fascination with Murakami. I have several of his books on my shelves, all of them actually read. My last Murakami review was 1Q84, his longest novel to date. Sputnik Sweetheart is the opposite at around 200 pages, easily one of his shorter works. Despite being a faster read, I found this novel to contain many of the same themes that made my previous read so enjoyable.
Describing what makes a Murakami novel work is a difficult undertaking. Although it works in that it is captivating and energizes you as the reader, it is frustrating to try and explain its themes, its story, or even what the true meaning actually is.Sometimes it’s hard to explain why a novel is wonderful: although you can see what the writer is doing with narrative and style, it is nearly impossible to explain a book is so pleasurable. All I can say is that the magic works.That’s the wonder of Murakami.
The narrator is known as K, a lonely and kind teacher living in Tokyo. He is your typical Murakami protagonist as he is a well-meaning but unambitious young man. His best friend Sumire, a college dropout who marches to the beat of her own drummer, is bent on becoming a serious novelist. She smokes too much, dresses in bizarre clothes such as “an oversized herringbone coat from a second-hand shop” and has a serious fascination with Kerouac. Despite her literary ambitions and hours of completed work, Sumire struggles to create a coherent novel. K loves Sumire but she wants to keep the relationship platonic. One day, Sumire tells K that she believes she has fallen in love for the first time in her life, with an enigmatic older woman called Miu who wants to give her a job as her assistant in her wine company. Sumire questions her sexuality and wonders if these feelings are real. She also develops writer’s block and can’t create one original sentence. Unfortunately, K has to suffer as Sumire needs his help in figuring it all out. 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 holiday. One night, K gets a phone call from Miu begging him to fly to the island as Sumire needs his help. She has disappeared without a trace.
While Murakami’s style is typically embodied in magical realism, he has written some realistic fiction. Sputnik Sweetheart is a hybrid. The first half of the novel reads as a realistic exploration of love and relationships. Sumire’s disappearance transitions the novel into the otherworldly that is Murakami’s primary style. As K searches for Sumire, the mystery deepens leading him down a rabbit’s hole into the bizarre. All the typical Murakami themes are there: sex, traumatic violence, the world of dreaming, and unrequited love. I think that through limiting the story to three main characters and keeping the narrative tight, he has fashioned a novel that works because of all that is not being said. As with everything Murakami, it is more about what’s beneath the surface.
Murakami has given us a work so much larger and deeper than the sum of its parts. His prose is always extremely accessible. He is easy to read with the ability to merge comedy and dramatic tension together well. His characters are always fully realized, and he is able to go into the depths of human darkness. But once you dive in, you begin to see over the edge into a dizzying and often breathtaking world. This is, I believe, a novel about human loneliness, that exquisite pain that not only terrifies us but also defines us. Through human connections, we form our own tethers to our own isolated little lives. Love is truly all you need.
There are never clear-cut answers to a Murakami novel. We are often left with more questions than answers by the end. I think that’s the point. Murakami tells these larger than life tales in order to help us search for our own solutions to the emotional problems that plague us. Through finding our own meaning, we find ourselves. If you’ve never read anything by Murakami before, this is a great book to see what you think.
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
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