Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

By Thomas Van Essen.

Set primarily in the mountainside city of Odawara in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, Killing Commedatore follows the life of a nameless, recently estranged artist who moves into the former residence of a famous painter Amada Tomohiko. Upon arriving in Odawara, the protagonist discovers a mysterious painting. The painting in question, is the eponymously named Killing Commendatore, Tomohiko’s magnum opus abandoned and unfound for reasons undisclosed.

Curiously, the painting seems to possess strange supernatural qualities, and as is expected of Murakami’s surrealist leanings, things get weird pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long before the narrative threads begin to unravel, intertwine and coalescence, blurring the line between fact and fiction, conscious and subconscious and dream and waking. Murakami trains us to think that the difference between these dichotomies is often relative, “there are channels to which reality can become unreal”. Caught up in incogitable cycle of events, the protagonist learns he must break free by learning the true meaning of the painting and the tragic history of its tortured creator.

All of the hallmarks of a Murakami classic are here: the nameless, cool-headed male protagonist, a penchant for nostalgia, déjà vu and obscure jazz records and the awkward and borderline perverted sex scenes, which whilst never crossing over into unacceptable territory, feel just a little toogratuitous. The region of Odawara is beautifully realised. Murakami draws us into the world his fictional Japan with worldly metatextual detail. One could get lost exploring the many references to chamber music, 19thcentury Russian literature and British luxury cars without scratching the surface of this book. Killing Commendatore is Murakami at his most free-flowing and transcendental. Some dozen or so full-length novels into his career and showing no sign of slowing down, Murakami is unquestionably a master of his craft.

My unwavering praise aside, for those unacquainted with Murakami, this is probably not the place to start. Although more straightforward than some of his more seminal works, the first third of the novel is far less immediate than say, Hard-Boiled Wonderlandor Kafka on the Shore. It’s also one of his most longwinded, at nearly 700 pages, Killing Commendatore may test the patience of some readers.

One point of contention is perhaps the ending. Though not entirely dissatisfying, leaves a little to be desired when compared to some of his more concise and focused finales. But perhaps this is missing the point. Like the inspired painter who knows when their work is complete, only Murakami can be the determinant of the fate of his characters.

Writer disclosure: Murakami is one of my favourite contemporary authors. In the interests of maintaining a standard of objectivity and impartiality, take my appraisals with a grain of salt. The version I received is the recently released Harvill Secker translation by Phillip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, originally published in two volumes as Kishidancho Goroshi.





, ,