Saturday, 11 April 2009

Sputnik Sweetheart - Haruki Murakami

For a longer version of this review, click here.

“In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life. 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…In short, a love of truly monumental proportions. The person she fell in love with happened to be 17 years older than Sumire. And was married. And, I should add, was a women. This was where it all began, and where it all ended. Almost.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a novel of almosts, where liminal spaces overlap and longing can never quite be divorced from true love. It is beautifully evocative yet difficult to define, a tale of unrequited love, unrealised ambition, and yearning, always yearning, for more. Perhaps because it is about anticipation of and longing for love rather than love itself, it is one of the most romantic books I have ever read.

The plot revolves around a love triangle between three people who, like Othello, love not wisely but too well. Their fatal flaws are not violent jealousy but a sort of insidious loneliness destined to prevent any of them ever really finding what they most crave. There is Sumire, a compulsive writer who dresses in an oversized coat and heavy boots and dreams of emulating Jack Kerouac, her best friend K who narrates the novel and of whose romantic intentions she is utterly unaware, and Miu, the women Sumire has fallen for. Miu is a successful wine importer, independent, stylish, and confident: everything Sumire wants to be. She is drawn to Miu like a little Sputnik orbiting a vast planet.

Together, Miu and Sumire set off on a business trip to Europe, leaving K behind to console himself in a series of meaningless affairs. But when a distraught Miu calls K out of the blue from a small Greek island to say that Sumire has disappeared without a  trace, he drops everything and travels halfway around the world to help find her. The explanation he devises is at once impossible yet somehow cathartic. Can it be that the key to understanding what happened to Sumire lies in the strange events which afflicted Miu on a Ferris wheel almost 14 years ago, and turned her hair, overnight, prematurely and completely white?

Part detective novel without detective or resolution, part romance without reciprocation, Sputnik Sweetheart is difficult to pin down. Everything seems to be “one step out of line, a cardigan with the buttons done up wrong.”

Like much of Murakami’s oeuvre Sputnik Sweetheart is best understood as a sort of ellipsis, a gap in everyday life that is simultaneously mundane and fantastical and in which all the things we sort of know about ourselves and sort of suspect about the world around us are brought to composite reality. He is an author who never fails to reaffirm my love of reading. His fiction, never more so than in this slim novella, creates worlds where dreams – in all their bizarre and often troubling unpredictability – come true.

9 out of 10

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