Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (Harvill)
The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has been enjoying a slowly growing English-language readership since the publication here of his magnum opus, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, in 1998. Murakami’s narrators are usually self-professedly ordinary men, who seek little more from life than to sit at the kitchen table listening to jazz and drinking beer. But extraordinary things keep on happening to them: one is inveigled into tracking down an evil sheep that wants to take over the world; another’s wife disappears, and then he finds himself trapped down a dry well.
The narrator of Sputnik Sweetheart is another Murakami everyman, a primary-school teacher known to the reader only as “K”. His best friend, Sumire, is a struggling writer: one of those lovable egotists, she throws Kerouacian poses, and goes everywhere in a second-hand herringbone coat and unnecessary Dizzy Gillespie spectacles. Sumire finds it hard to finish anything she writes, and is mystified by the phenomenon of sexual desire, an urge she has never felt. Despite this, and her habit of placing discursive telephone calls from the park at 4am, K is in love with her. Continued →