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Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami August 14, 2006

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A quirky young woman in love with an older woman. A lonesome teacher in love with the younger woman. A mysterious incident on a foreign island. Sputnik Sweetheart has all the hallmarks of Haruki Murakami, but somehow fails to sparkle.

If I were to be harsh, I would call this minor Murakami. It feels a lot like one of his short stories, strung out over 200 pages. That’s not to say that it’s terrible; a cruising Murakami is still Murakami. It just lacks that completeness to supply a sense of satisfaction at the end. This is particulary frustrating since the main character is the same young man we see in most of his stories. We’ve seen him done before and in more interesting circumstances. Murakami’s stories always have an ephereal quality about them. That’s always intoxicating, and his trademark musings on life, love and loneliness still hit the button. But they’re too few and far between to hide the meandering story. Again, had this been a short story, perhaps this would have worked. But in a longer story there are just too many loose ends.

‘Hanalei Bay’ by Haruki Murakami April 22, 2006

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Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | The concluding part of Hanalei Bay by Haruki Murakami

A new Murakami short story, Hanalei Bay, was serialised in The Guardian, as advertising for his new compilation Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. First part can be found here. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed. I know he’s trying to say something about accepting the hand life deals you, but to me it meanders without really going anywhere. Still, a new collection of Murakami short stories is nothing to be sniffed at. The Elephant Vanishes was fabulous, so I’m very tempted. Must…wait…for…paperback!

Norwegian Wood October 9, 2005

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Described by some as ‘one of the greatest writers of our generation’, Haruki Marukami comes to me with a rather hefty reputation. I am certainly drawn to anything from Japanese culture, but I did not expect to discover such a deeply personal, remarkably affecting novel. Let me clear the deck by saying straight off: I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Norwegian Wood starts of Prost like, with the beat of a Beatles tune evoking strong, overcoming memories in the protagonist, Toru Watanabe. It takes him (and us) back to the late 60s, back to University and a time of uncertainty, discovery, intellect, sex, alcohol and overwhelming love. If this sounds rather cliched, then the book’s great achievement is to make it not so. Maybe it is the Tokyo setting that makes the urban city a bit more exotic, different from a thousand coming-of-age novels. Indeed, Watanabe has an air of Holden Caulfied about him, which the author concsiously acknowledges. Murakami has said that he simply exaggerated his own experiences and the intimacy with location and books certainly shows that. But how much of the emotion is his? That’s part of the wonder.

The most striking thing about the novel is how incredibly relaxing it is. This is an effortless read, not because it’s dumbed down, but because it is from the heart (thanks to a wonderful translation by Jay Rubin). Murakami pours his intellect into the material, but it never gets in the way. It is never awkward or flashy. I’m afraid this is one of those novels that gives some people a ‘life-changing experience’. It could certainly be read as profound in places, but it is insight through truism rather than eloquence. In fact, the most resonating quote for me is a blindingly obvious bit of advice: “Don’t feel sorry for yourself, only assholes do that”.