1999 (Japanese)/ 2001 (English)
"I have this strange feeling that I'm not myself anymore. It's hard to put into words, but I guess it's like I was fast asleep, and someone came, disassembled me, and hurriedly put me back together again. That sort of feeling."
After posting two reviews of famous books that I didn't care about much (Fear and Trembling & Generation X) , it's a relief for me to get to something that I know I actually like, and that's another Haruki Murakami book (I think that he is good). I first read Sputnik Sweetheart about five or six years ago when I was an aspiring young student with half the cynicism, in the gloriously busy and compact university town of Aberystwyth, Wales. For some reason, even though there was both a three-floor main campus library and the massive National Library of Wales, I spent more time in the tiny town library. That's where I found Murakami, and this was the third book of his I read. It took me a long time to eventually buy it, but I'm slow at everything.
So, how to describe Sputnik Sweetheart (aside from commenting that it's a stupid title for a book)? Stylistically, it's most similar to Norwegian Wood and South of the Border, West of the Sun, which I suppose essentially means that it's kind of an existential romantic drama, immediately reminding me of the novels of Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, etc.). Kundera usually wrote about a love and sex between his main characters as they lived among strange and unsettling times in Eastern Europe, approaching his analytical philosophical ponderings through the experiences of his characters. Murakami and Sputnik Sweetheart take the same approach towards telling a story, but the author's voice is so strong and unique that this is definitely and distinctively the mind of Haruki Murakami.
There are three important characters in this novel, and they are locked into a kind of unrequited love triangle that ultimately takes the previously-normal human drama of the story and entwines fantasy and reality. The narrator is simply named 'K', but the story doesn't revolve around him, instead telling the story of his unrequited love, Sumire. Sumire falls in love in the most existential way with an older woman named Miu, divulging her thoughts to K who is, unlike the usual Murakami narrator, a strong and confident voice. Time goes by without K hearing from her, until he receives a letter from her telling him that she and Miu have been travelling in Europe. Later K gets a phone call from Miu, who tells him that, while staying on a Greek island, Sumire has simply vanished.
It's from this point that Murakami steers into somewhat familiar territory, returning to themes explored throughout his work in a typically post-modern style. I'm not sure if it's a spoiler (it probably is) to say that, like most of his novels (1Q84 & The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle come to mind in particular) there's certainly not a conclusive ending, but instead a meditative, philosophical and fantastically poetic closure. Like Milan Kundera, Murakami's way of portraying his image of obsessive and unexplainable love is spellbinding, and his build towards the metaphysical rollercoaster as K searches for Sumire s amazing.
I loved this book, more than I remember. It's thoughtful, beautiful, and mesmerizing. Call it post-modernism, magical realism, or simply a modern fairy tale, Murakami's style is uniquely brilliant.