Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
First published 1999; translation published 2001

This novel had a promising start but it sort of turned banal and blandly descriptive half way through, till it regained some of it effect at the end, and, as is common for Murakami novels, ended on a sad and depressing note.

A young woman (Sumire) in her early twenties, living a lonely and conflicted life, is desperately trying to become a writer, which invokes images of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but other than that there’s no similarity.

She struggles to write and keeps herself going with odd jobs when she meets a woman ten years her senior, Miu, and falls violently in love with her. Sumire’s tumultuous love for Miu is not reciprocated, but she must find a way to Miu’s heart

There is something of the marriage of real and magical in this novel, for which his two books (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) are famous. In this story, the personality is split in two and a person’s one half travels to the other side and the second half remains on this side. Both halves are horrified at what the other half is doing.

A friend of mine read it literally and disliked it for its improbable storyline. The story is perfectly plausible but the magical realist bit can’t be judged with tools of realism. What happens to the young woman and the older one for whom she has lesbian romantic feelings is symbolic portrayal of split personalities and conflicting thought patterns, and the steps one takes towards achieving conflicting goals, something that can’t be pursued here in this mundane world.

In the end there is a disjointed insertion of the narrator’s school pupil’s stealing episode from a store which, to use Murakami’s own metaphor, seems like a false note in an otherwise coherent music piece. My rating 3/5


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