The title and cover art of this novel are very deceptive. They give the misinformed impression that the book is a love story, or at least that the main focus is the theme of love. Yes, there is a supposed ‘love triangle’ which is given prominence in the book, however like all of Haruki Murakami’s novels, the real story is hidden beneath the surface.
Image source: Penusa – Haruki Murakami
Ostensibly, the narrator – in love with a young woman he met in college – is writing about her un-interest in men and her sudden desire and love for an older married woman. In reality, this novel is about splits – about the way human beings can suddenly feel divided and displaced, incomplete and aimless. Loneliness is the real subject tackled in the novel. That deep, incessant, unwavering loneliness that almost every human being experiences throughout their lives. Yes, we search for love and human affection in a bid to run away from this loneliness, but in the end, we are forever alone within our skin and thoughts, and the great despair which that brings about causes individuals to feel the need to grasp at something, be it time, an idea, or other individuals.
On the surface, Sputnik Sweetheart is no more than a collection of reflections and yearnings, thoughts and emotions relating to the love life and unrequited passion of the three main characters. The beauty and genius of Murakami is, in truth, to be found in his style of writing. His haunting metaphors, his imperceptible allegories, hidden nuances and reflected symbols can be maddening for the reader, since they don’t have just one meaning, but can be translated to mean a myriad of different things. The reader here becomes a mirror, unwittingly caught up in Murakami’s web of words. We reflect, we think, we suspect, we consider… We try to understand a shifting truth, when in reality there isn’t just one truth, but many – as many as there are readers.
Like Sputnik 1 – the first artificial Earth satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 – human beings are doomed to be travelers; travelling forever alone in the darkness of the cold universe, to an unknown and undefined destination. The characters of the novel are so mercurial and immaterial that we don’t actually even know the narrator’s name. It’s inconsequential for the purpose of the novel, which is to delve into the human unconscious. We simply know him as ‘K’. The young girl he loves – Sumire – embodies a person uncertain of her sense of self, one who’s willing to go wherever the current takes her, and who ends up lost within herself. The older woman Sumire falls in love with – Miu – is the ultimate displaced personality. She seems to have it all, so much so that everyone admires her, and yet she too is lost.
Image: Sputnik 1
This is not a novel for those who take books at face value. It is a parable, an allegory, a fable. Readers who crave yet another love story or the meandering fallacies of a love triangle will surely not see beyond just that. Those who, on the other hand, are prepared to read between the words, have a whole new perception of the world waiting for them.
All of this is encapsulated within the bewildering open-ended conclusion, which leaves one feeling curiously drained and baffled. The blood imagery prevalent throughout the novel, the feelings of disoriented inactivity, the curious sense of loss and ineffectuality culminate in an inevitable nothingness, to be analysed and prodded by the reader, and yet left open to interpretation.
The best novels are, perhaps, those which instead of answering existential questions, evoke more.