"The much-anticipated new novel from the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of 1Q84 and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Killing Commendatore is an epic tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art--as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby--and a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers"--
"Even the darkest, thickest cloud shines silver when viewed from above."
"Nothing is painted there yet, but it’s more than a simple blank space. Hidden on that white canvas is what must eventually emerge. As I look more closely, I discover various possibilities, which congeal into a perfect clue as to how to proceed. That’s the moment I really enjoy. The moment when existence and nonexistence coalesce."
In Murakami's wonderful new book, he takes us on an artist's journey while at the same time he explores various relationships and big ideas. A suggestion: whenever he mentioned a musical piece in the book, I found it and played it on Youtube. In Absolutely on Music, his dialogue with Seiji Ozawa, Murakami confirmed what a discerning ear he has, and what a knowledgeable layman he is. Fans will recall that he ran a jazz club in Tokyo before he became a writer. By following along musically in this book, I experienced a lot of music I'd not heard before. A highlight was Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto, and even though I'm not an opera buff, I liked Der Rosenkavalier much more than I expected. He also got me back to listening to early Springsteen, something I haven't done for a while.
The story features an unnamed middle-aged man experiencing a crisis in his 6 year marriage, and eventually retreating to a famous artist's home in the mountains (the artist is declining in a hospital) . Our protagonist is a talented painter who's been making a living doing corporate portraits, but the change re-ignites his passion for unrestricted work. He finds a mysterious wrapped painting in the home, and hears a bell in the middle of the night sounding from near a shrine. The surreal events begin. Yes, there are cats, a hole like a well, a young girl who seems adrift, and other familiar Murakami elements. They're woven into a remarkably sure-handed story that has one of my favorite endings of any of his books.
One notable flaw, for me: his obsession with breasts continues, with much more than I needed about the 13 year old girl's longing for her flat chest to bloom. If the point was that she wished the protagonist would take a romantic interest in her, or her longing to be an adult, or whatever, it could've been conveyed with a lot less. But that's a small quibble.
I love what one reviewer had to say about his writing in this book: “Murakami dancing along ‘the inky blackness of the Path of Metaphor’ is like Fred Astaire dancing across a floor, then up the walls and onto the ceiling.”
He's a comfortable, confident guide who takes us places we never expected to go. Four and a half stars.
Characterisation and character development are a hallmark of his works and it is not just the development of the protagonist that is portrayed but that of every character in the story. To use the terminology and definitions of John Yorke in his explanation of how stories work, Into the Woods, Killing Commendatore is a three dimensional story.
Murakami's work will not be everyone's cup of tea. I believe either people like Murakami or they do not. If you do then you will like this novel.
The description of the story-teller’s marriage breakdown is told in a beautifully bleak way; the mystery and questions around Menshiki are hinted at; the ambiguous relationship with Mariye is left powerfully unexplored; the mystery and tension that build around the discovery of the shrine, the pit and the bell is constructed magnificently. Most of this book is superbly written in Murakami’s inimitable style, but the journey into the other realm, and the connections that I must have simply missed…
I also found the obsession with a 13 year old girl’s breasts to be somewhat disconcerting.
‘Killing Commendatore’ is not my favorite Muarakami novel, but the quality of the writing stands with any other modern novelist’s work.
A small note: One thing I love about Murakami (which drives some people absolutely nuts) is his moment-to-moment narrative of the main character's activities: boiling water for tea, going to the fridge for cold cuts, settling into a thick couch, listening to Strauss' Rosenkavalier, picking out a shirt. Often inconsequential, these moments are nevertheless also often vital to his themes, not the least of which is the importance of each tiny moment of time, the present moment, the quantum world of meaning within each drop--of course, a Buddhist principal contrary to the vast rush of the West forward and to the future.
Tim Lott wrote an excellent essay in Aeon in September, 2012, which captures this notion: "The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our Western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment."
That's not to say that Murakami doesn't review the past, especially the damages from World War II, or peer into the future. It's just that so much of his work sends us inward, to the internal beating of our souls, ushered there in part by attention to the nano-moments of time. Now, back to figuring out what Murakami had in mind in Killing Commendatore.
Never having been to Japan I am never sure if it’s him that’s weird or the Japanese. I’ve talked to people that have been there and most of them are not sure either.
I think that watching a Japanese TV game show called “Masturbation Karaoke” didn’t help me much either in coming to an understanding about it.
In the TV show, the contestants, men, were masturbated by the hostesses to a popular song and the men had to not just sing the words whilst being wanked but ejaculate in time with the end of the song. All that stood between the masturbation and the camera was a strategically placed board that hid the female hands but showed the ejaculate splashing on the floor.
I was not only stunned by the fact that this was a TV game show but as much by the fact that some men actually managed to pull it off, if you’ll forgive the expression.
I have seen other equally bizarre Japanese TV shows and that kinda makes up the context for me when reading any Japanese novel.
Having read quite a few Japanese novels by various authors I am constantly stunned by the cultural differences to the point where I wonder how much I miss by not understanding their “weirdness”.
Which brings me back to Killing Comendatore. To say that this is a weird story is an understatement but that does nothing to detract from the sheer scope of this book. I like how the main parts of the story are all resolved by the end of the book and aslo how much is left unresolved. The woman in the port town, the man in the Subaru etc etc.
I can say without any doubt that I enjoyed this book in so many ways and some I suspect that we do not have words for in English.
Everyone now knows about "hygge" but there are several Japanese emotions for which we do not just lack words but also lack the concept. Sure you can say that “hygge” is like but that is like saying “a cat is like a dog” which is true to about the same level.
Example: That sort of painful, sort of bittersweet, sort of wistful feeling you get looking out the window or driving at night or listening to a far-off train whistle? There's an *exact* word for that in Japanese.
(If you are interested in that idea of emotions or you think you have a good handle on emotions then you really should read “The History of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith)
So there you go, another voyage into the land of weirdness but a voyage on the ship of a master mariner.
I love Murakami's writing. Enjoyed all his other books.
Found this one, long, repetitious, somewhat humorous, but with no point really
Its as wildly published a homage to the Great Gatsby. The book explores themes of loss and melancholy and also artistic motivations and what it means to live a life of creation to make things as a way of being in the world. It really feels like Murakami is speaking for himself through some of the longer parts of the novel. The creation of art affects real life and real life affects the creation of art. The characters all serve this purpose and at times are two dimensional but that feels very much like a choice and not an oversight. The cast of characters come together, as is usual for Murakami, is strange weird and emotionally, at least for this reader, affecting ways. The long history of the WW2 veteran are especially confounding in the best way possible. This is a long read and Murakim sets out to tell you all of the things that he can and boy does he tell you dear reader all of the things. Its good and tiring and engaging.
In short it is one of best novels to read during this time of quarantine. I read this book when it came out in english but am considering taking a deep dive again as I take a dive into my own inner space Killing seems like a good fun-house mirror from which to observe myself and the world at large.
If you like Murakami’s style of writing you'll probably enjoy the book. If you are new to Murakami (or even if you are not) it will leave you puzzled and confused. I wouldn’t recommend it to others.