I think there’s a time and a place to enjoy Murakami but I think I just wasn’t in the zone for this book. I put it down frequently and the main character interactions bored me and then even worse, annoyed me.
The story is told from the narrator’s point of view, an elementary school teacher called “K” who has a crush on a girl called Sumire.
Sumire, a plain and petite woman, does not feel the same way that K does and discovers that she has a crush on a more mature woman of Korean origin called Miu. Miu, strong and refined, is in no way sexually attracted to Sumire and does not understand her lust, but does appreciate the girl, and in order not to lose her she lets Sumire kiss her and fondle her in one of the most awkward sex scenes since 1Q84. She does take the girl under her wing and encourages her to be more wordly – to learn Italian, to admire classical music, to be able to taste and appreciate wine.
This woman loved Sumire, but couldn’t feel any sexual desire for her. Sumire loved this woman and desired her. I loved Sumire and felt sexual desire for her. Sumire liked me, but didn’t love me, and didn’t feel any desire for me. I felt sexual desire for a woman who will remain anonymous. But I didn’t love her. It was all so complicated, like something out of an existential play. Everything hit a dead end there, no alternatives left.
“K” is in a classic love triangle situation so in order to get over his infatuation with Sumire, he starts an affair with the mother of one of his pupils called “Carrot”. One evening, before school starts, he receives a phone call from Greece from Miu who asks him to come to her as soon as possible as Sumire had gone missing.
She tells him about the string of events that led to the point of Sumire’s disappearance, in which Miu was unable to reciprocate physically when Sumire initiated a sexual encounter. Miu is very pleased to have K around, but worries that Sumire may have committed suicide as she left all her items behind.
Miu leaves the island for Athens in order to get help from the Japanese embassy and to call Sumire’s parents. K spends a day on the island thinking about Sumire and her fate, coming to the a realization that there might be some clue in Sumire’s writing that Miu mentioned. He finds Sumire’s computer and a floppy disk that contains two documents, named simply “Document 1” and “Document 2”.
One contains Sumire’s writing about a dream of hers in which she tries and fails to reach a version of her mother, who died when Sumire was young.
“In dreams you don’t need to make any distinctions between things. Not at all. Boundaries don’t exist. So in dreams there are hardly ever collisions. Even if there are, they don’t hurt. Reality is different. Reality bites. Reality, reality.”
The other is a story that Miu told her about an event that transformed her 14 years ago.
She was stuck in the ferries wheel and saw her splitting into two part, over there is having sex with the old man named Ferdinando in her own apartment. She witnessed such scece by herself via binoculars and where? in the desert gondola. That really made her feel disgusted and I was at shocked. She even can’t believe what was happening and couldn’t quite remember what occurred afterwards. She ended up bruising and blooding after people found out her being a lone in that gondola in the park of Switzerland. And what did she discover about herself after that? Her hair died and turned into pure white one. She changed completely. She lost her interested in playing piano and have never touched the key ever since. She even couldn’t love some one else.
“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.”
Trying hard to connect the dots, K concludes that both the stories suggest the existence of multiple worlds, and Sumire has left this world and entered a parallel one, perhaps to be with the other version of Miu.
At this point I was truly bored with the book. “K” ends the affair with the married woman he was seeing after having a very unconfortable discussion with a security guard about his teacher position while helping out “Carrot” after a shoplifting accident.
“I’m speaking as a teacher here,” I replied, “but especially with children, habitual shoplifting is not so much a criminal act as the result of a subtle emotional imbalance. Maybe if I’d paid a little more attention I would have noticed something. I fell down on the job, definitely. But with emotionally disturbed children there’s not always something outward to go on. If you separate the act from everything else and punish the child, the basic problem isn’t going to be cured. Unless you find the fundamental cause and treat that, the same problem will surface later on in a different form. Often children are trying to send a message by shoplifting, so even if it isn’t the most efficient way of handling the problem, it’s important to take the time to talk things out.”
He then sees Miu on the streets in her Jaguar all white-haired and looking like an empty container. The book ends with him receiving a call from Sumire to meet and date… WTF.
This was probably one of the crappiest books I’ve read from Murakami. His other ones were either amazingly good (Norwegian Wood, 1Q84) or just acceptable reads (South of the Border, West of the Sun or After Dark)
The good bits:
The use of the term “Sputnik” evolves from a misunderstanding of an English word but the image of a satellite revolving in isolation around a central figure with which it has no real contact can be seen as a kind of a summery for the themes of the book.
The name Sumire related to violet which is one in flag symbol, means “spirit”, and in Japanese it means purity, beauty and lucidity.
The metaphors are quite well done: When Sumire gives up smoking, she loses her grip on things, “like some animal that’s had its furry tail sliced off”. Reality resembles “a cardigan with the buttons done up wrong”; when K arrives on the island, he tastes “the kind of air that felt like if you breathed it in, your lungs would be dyed the same shade of blue”.
With Sumire writing and referring to her and Miu:
“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.”
The bad bits:
The book lacked any excitement, intrigue and a good start. It lacks emotion and flavour. The characters seem anonymous with “K” as the central force observing the plot happening around him but not actually being “in” the plot.
When I started reading “Kafka on the shore” I said that I was going to read all of Murakami’s books..
I did not like the characters, I did not like the beginning, I did not like the ending and I did not like the story.