Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami: A review

I've had Haruki Murakami's latest book in my reading queue for several months, but I was daunted by its length of over seven hundred pages and by my previous experience of reading Murakami. His tales can be complex and demanding of the reader.  But finally, I felt I had stalled as long as I could and I just needed to read the damned book.

Some reviews that I had read of the book when it came out last year had mentioned Murakami's love of F. Scott Fitgerald and particularly of The Great Gatsby. This book was said to be an homage to Fitzgerald's masterpiece. Looking back on it now with the perspective of a few days' time, I can see that there are similarities in the storyline, but I admit these were not necessarily evident to me at the time of reading.

Murakami's narrator is a painter of portraits who has been fairly successful in his trade. He lives in an apartment in Tokyo with his office-worker wife of six years. On the surface, the marriage appears to be a successful and happy one to observers and also to the narrator, but one day his wife quite unexpectedly tells him that she wants a divorce. She makes this announcement after several months of refusing to have sex with him. That might have been a clue to a more observant man.

Our narrator is shattered by the announcement and flees Tokyo on a long road trip that eventually leads him to the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture. A friend of his from art school has offered him the house of his father who has had to move to an extended care facility because of his dementia. That father, we learn, is a famous painter, Tomohiko Amada, who began his career as a Western-style artist of cutting-edge modern oil paintings. In mid-career, he switched styles and became a very successful painter of Japanese-style works. 

The narrator lives a listless existence in the more famous painter's house listening to his classical music collection, teaching a few art classes at a local community center, and conducting desultory affairs with a couple of his students. Then one day he looks into the attic of the house after hearing noises there during the night (it turned out to be an owl) and he discovered a rolled up canvas with an Amada painting that was a representation of a scene in Mozart's "Don Giovanni". The characters in the scene were dressed as seventh-century Japanese courtiers and the scene itself showed the Don Giovanni character killing a character known as the Commendatore. The painting had a profound effect on the narrator. He recognized it as a masterpiece.

After his discovery of the painting, strange and supernatural phenomena began to disrupt the mundane existence of the narrator and his interpretation of those phenomena leads us on a long and winding road through his meeting and budding relationship with a neighbor, a Gatsby-like character who spends his time spying with binoculars on a house across the way where a thirteen-year-old girl who he believes may be his daughter lives. The painter also develops relationships with the girl and her aunt. He agrees to paint a portrait of the girl for the faux Gatsby and she talks to him while she is posing about her concerns about her developing breasts which aren't developing fast enough she thinks. All of this reminds him of his sister who died at the same age as the girl and who was also concerned about her developing breasts. He begins to conflate the two people.

In addition to all this, there is a pit in the woods, a bell that rings in the night with no apparent human aid, a two-foot-tall ghostly materialization of the Commendatore from the painting, and on and on. I really cannot begin to summarize it all. There are historical secrets and paranormal happenings that mix and mingle with each other in a mystical jumble that could be confusing for literal-minded readers. Perhaps it found me at just the right moment, but I found that I actually quite enjoyed the experience.

The book is overlong. The story could have been told in half the length and I think it probably would have been a better and certainly tighter story. But that's just not the way that Murakami writes. He gives the impression of having thrown everything, every idea he's ever had, into the mix just to see what works. In this, he seems nothing like his hero, Fitzgerald. But his straightforward narrative - this happened then this happened - does perhaps owe something to him. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Update: For my regular readers, I just wanted to let you know that hubby is home after his surgery and his hospital stay and he's doing quite well. He will have a six to eight weeks convalescence and, of course, it will take him longer still to completely recover, but we are ecstatic with his progress so far. And I thank you all for your thoughts and kind wishes for us during this time. 

Comments

  1. So glad your other half is recovering well. Kia kaha to you both. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

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  2. Sounds like Murakami alright. I need to read at least one book by him this year. Thanks for the update on your husband. I am glad it went well. Wishing him a full recovery.

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    1. You would like this one I think. Thank you for your kind wishes.

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  3. Thank God for your hubby's recovery. I hope his convalescence is speedy and smoothly.
    This one sounds weird but glad you enjoyed it. I have never read Murakami. This one piqued my attention when it was released for the simple fact that it is penned by him and I want to read something by him.

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    1. Thanks for your good wishes for my husband.

      Murakami is a bit weird but always interesting. This one is fairly typical and would not be a bad choice for someone who wanted to "get into" Murakami.

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    2. I'll keep it in mind. I was thinking more around the vein of 1Q84, though I don't even know what that one is about.

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    3. I haven't read that one but it's on my (very long) list. I'll get to it some day.

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