In many ways, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart is a typical novel from the Japanese writer. Certain themes and motifs are present in many of Murakami's works. Sputnik Sweetheart follows the brilliant Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the novel I believe to be Murakami's masterwork. Whereas that story was like a labyrinth, this is a more straightforward kind of tale, or as straightforward as a Murakami story can be.
Interestingly, after the other labyrinth-like work, Kafka on the Shore, Murakami also followed that with a more contained kind of novel, After Dark. And at the centre of both Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark are female characters, which is something of a rarity for the author.
Neither Sputnik Sweetheart nor After Dark are bad novels. In fact, they are very good novels. But it does seem that these novels are a kind of `break' for Murakami. Similarly, the expansive work Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was followed by the more intimate Norwegian Wood. Therefore, when you look at Murakami's bibliography, you do see a pattern emerge.
Whilst The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a story about a missing cat, Sputnik Sweetheart is about a missing woman. The woman in question, Simire, is a young aspiring novelist, and realises she is a lesbian when she meets a woman named Miu at a family member's wedding. Up until meeting Miu, Simire's sole focus in life was writing. Although Simire is at the centre of the novel, in typical Murakami style, it is narrated by a male protagonist. This man, named `K.', is Sumire's only connection with the real world before she meets Miu. K. is in love with Sumire, although his feelings are not reciprocated.
Unfortunately, I do think the narrator could be more compelling, as he doesn't seem to react much to the woman he loves falling for someone else. This is where the novel falls short slightly. Of course by nature, Murakami's protagonists are somewhat apathetic, but this did feel a little unnatural. What was also frustrating was the lack of closure. Ambiguity isn't something that I normally find a problem in stories - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is perhaps Murakami's most ambiguous novel, yet it is also my favourite. But the loose ends in Sputnik Sweetheart feel a little unfair on the reader. Whilst in Wind-Up Bird the reader effectively had a whole world to play with, again, this is a story which is quite contained, and so it feels more important that we find out the answers. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable read, but it does feel as though Murakami doesn't see off the dangers his formula brings quite as well as he does in other works.