Posts Tagged ‘unrequited love’

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu – Review

May 17, 2010

On the coldest day of the year a boy is born the unwanted child of a prostitute.  It’s so cold, his little heart does not want to work and to set it working properly, the woman who delivers the child, a woman of bizarre means and ways, graphs onto his heart a cuckoo clock to help the little heart find its rhythm, to help it beat in tune with time.

Of course, this premise has its own twist and turn to it, and it’s the journey to the playing out of this premise that makes this novel. While the love story between the main character, Jack, and a near blind singer, Miss Acacia, is the focus of the story,  a second and, ultimately, tragic love story quietly plays out beneath this, a love story of a different nature between Jack and the woman who had grafted the cuckoo-clock to his chest, Dr. Madeleine.

The romance between Miss Acacia and Jack have the usual obstacles, largely being Jack’s inferiority complex and the return of one of Miss Acacia’s former beaus, Joe, who was also Jack’s archenemy in public school. And, really, the love affair ends as you would fairly expect it to. But it is also this ending that brings about Jack’s knowledge of the truth of his heart and the ultimate destinies of every character in the novel.

There really isn’t a lot to mine from the story. Love is displayed in many forms throughout, but never really explored with any depth. There are Dr. Madeleine’s desperate motherly love for Jack, there’s Jack (and Joe’s) obsessive love for Miss Acacia, there’s Miss Acacia’s love which appears the truest but also one of the most abused, and Melies’s love for women in general and few women in particular. The book is chock-full of of love malformed, love unrequited and love abused. But it finds a way to still say very little about it.

Which is alright because it’s still a good little read for what it is. On a personal note, I was somewhat disappointed by the turn that befalls the main character. I thought it took something away from him, made him (and his story) pretty normal fare. I can’t help but think that the idea of a boy with a clock grafted to his heart, in some way tied to his physical being so that each is dependent on the other, could have been followed to richer spoils, but it’s not a total turnoff. Considering the novel stretches on for all of 171 pages, it’s fulfilling enough without being repetitive or boring while also offering no real illusions that it needs to be more than it is. So since it is something you can pick up on a Sunday afternoon and put away late Sunday evening, it’s not bad. I’ve seen that it is supposed to go with a music album by the band the author heads, but I have not heard this album or any other album by this group, nor do I think it is necessary to enjoy the story. It’s good for what it is which, unfortunately, turns out to be something without the heart that it thought it possessed.

Sputnik Sweetheart – Review

August 4, 2009

Murakami excels when plumbing the depths of human loneliness and isolation while being surrounded by humanity.  In Sputnik Sweetheart, the narrator is known only as K.  He is a teacher who is madly in love with a woman two years younger than named Sumire. Sumire doesn’t reciprocate these feelings and later finds she wants to pursue a homosexual relationship with an older woman named Miu. Sumire comes to work for Miu and then disappears from a small Greek island while on a business/vacation trip with the older woman.

As with most Murakami stories, the attempts at a sexual life by the main character (and, as it turns out, all of the characters) is stunted, at best. At worst, the ability to have a sexual relationship is entirely missing. It’s probably worth noting that the one character who most fully overcomes their sexual shortcomings and even makes  a proactive attempt at finding a sexual life promptly disappears. 

There is a similar setup to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In an existence where the narrator’s life is literally split into two simultaneous halves, his sexual lives tend to culminate with going “underground” in some way to a strange and foreign place. Murakami seems to be forming a sort of equation where fully realizing your sexual fulfilment results in a distinct seperation from the conventional world – and at times it is leaving the conventional world that is required for this sexual fulfillment.

Still, this leads away a bit from the true essence of Sputnik Sweetheart. While sex, or the absence of sex, plays a large role in the story, it’s really a story that seems to revolve more around unrequited love and the isolation such love forces upon you. Miu, unable to enjoy sex-or equally share/build a relationship – because of an event from her youth, leads a life that substitutes independence for her isolation.  Meanwhile, K. has several sexual relationships but no real relationship because the one woman he desires and doesn’t have sex with is the only woman who seems to hold any interest for him on a deeper level.

Murakami is one of my favorite writers, so my opinion towards his work is slanted, but Sputnik Sweetheart is an entirely readable little novel that clocks in at around 200 pages. Like all Murakami works, it is something that can be read as superficially as you like but which has a surprising depth given its size and the deceptively simple construction. For summer fare it would make for leisurely reading on the beach or on vacation or, for those unfamiliar with Murakami works, a good introduction to him. For those familiar with Murakami, it makes for a quick jaunt into his universe and hits upon familiar themes and images.

Sputnik Sweetheart at Amazon