Went to London last week

Went to London last week – on the train back, I was tempted to blog. But I was too engrossed in my book, and now I haven’t the time and inclination to write much, except that I met up with Jan and his friend Katarina, who was going to test a friend’s theory that nerd sex is the best sex there is – she approached some non-descript middle age grey man at a bus stop with the sole intention of seducing him to see what the sex was like. Weird, a little scary but at the same time kinda exciting. Anyway, together we went to see Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which was a great feel-good documentary about the unsung heroes of Motown, the musicans. Then I met up with Zaid for some interesting conversation and brain stimulating stuff.

On the train back, I was feeling kinda emotional and intellectual and slightly melancholy and all those things, and was getting inspired by the scenery. Note to self: when getting the 20.25 train from St Pancras at this time of year, take a look West as the train approaches Bedford – incredible sunset, a dark indigo sky with a thumb-smudge patch of deep magenta-red just over one small hillock, and peering through the middle of it the top millimetre or two of a vast seething sun the like of which I’d seen before in India and Egypt but rarely in this country.

But, like I said, what kept me from blogging was my book, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. A very easy read, but beautiful, deep and… different, in a way that perhaps only a book translated from Japanese to English can be (I often wonder about the effect of language upon translation – all of the German books I’ve read are interminably hard to plough through – The Tin Drum was worthwhile, but I’ve rarely got beyond page two of any other Gunther Grass I’ve tried. Hesse is great, but best when, as in Siddartha, brief. Swiss and Austrian books don’t seem much better. But Czech books somehow manage to be equally deep but much lighter fare. Hmmm. I digress).

The book revolves around three characters: our narrator, K, is a twenty-something schoolteacher, who in typical narratorly fashion doesn’t give away much about himself (and indeed professes to be unable to write about himself objectively). The hero (I guess) is Sumire, a deeply impractical woman who was at college with with K, who shares his obsession for literature and is determined to be a writer. Miu is another woman in her late thirties, who runs a wine import company, seems incredibly sophisticated, but has hidden and obviously sad mysteries to her life. K loves Sumire, mentally and physically. Sumire loves Miu, mentally and physically. Miu is unable to have physical relations, but has a lot of affection for Sumire. Sumire and Miu meet at a wedding, and when their talk turns to literature, Sumire’s talks of her current obsession with the work of Jack Kerouac and Miu says “wasn’t he one of those Sputniks?” – hence the book’s title. She later discovers that Sputnik is Russian for Travelling Companion, after adopting Sumire as her travelling companion through Europe, the spark behind this beautiful paragraph on page 129 of this 229-page book:

“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful travelling companions, but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal on 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 happen 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.”

And then, on page 149, something else which I instantly associated with my vague desires to be a writer and with this blog:

Which explains my stance as a writer. I think – in a very ordinary way – and reach a point where, in a realm I cannot even give a name to, I conceive a dream, a sightless foetus called understanding, floating in the universal, overwhelming amniotic fluid of incomprehension. Which must be why my novels are absurdly long and, up till now, at least, never reach a proper conclusion. The technical, and moral, skills needed to maintain a supply line on that scale are beyond me.

and then…

What I’ve written here is a message to myself. I toss it into the air like a boomerang. It slices through the dark, lays the little soul of some kangaroo out cold, and finally comes back to me.

But the boomerang that returns is not the same one that I threw.

Boomerang, boomerang.

Hmmm… I often mean to horde quotes from novels, I admire the way that Niina seems to have a quote for just about every book she’s read (hey, she even has some, lots, for Sputnik Sweetheart!), but somehow when I’m reading that’s not really what’s on my mind. Well, this time the quotes (combined, obviously, with my mental state at the time) were so compelling I couldn’t ignore them.