"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The loneliness of men is, for better or worse, the centerpiece of many great works of fiction. Murakmi has a reputation for writing the majority of his novels from the perspective of dissatisfied men, full of wanderlust and disillusionment. Killing Commendatore is no different in that regard.
Told in the first person, our unnamed narrator, a mildly successful painter, sets out on a weeks long journey with no clear destination. Winding highways along the shoreline, roadside diners, and cheap motels all blur together into haze, providing the reader with a sense of the vertigo our narrator must be experiencing in the dizzying aftershock of his marriage ending.
He comes to live in the house of celebrated Japanese artist Tomohiko Amada, who has been moved to an assisted living center in his old age. A college friend has taken a sort of pity on our narrator, and has offered him use of the house (and Amada's art studio) for as long as he needs.
"You should be careful. Don’t get possessed by my dad’s spirit. He’s a guy with a strong spirit."
In the attic of Amada's cottage, our narrator finds a heretofore unknown painting, titled "Killing Commendatore" , based on Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The masterful painting depicts the titular murder, but it also seems to hold some metaphorical significance as well.
It is not long into our narrator's stay in this mountain retreat that he meets a Mr. Menshiki, a mysterious man who just happens to live across the mountain from Amada's cottage. Menshiki is an extremely successful, forthcoming, generous man who takes an instant liking to the narrator.
Menshiki acts as something of a catalyst for the entire plot of the book, if you could really say that there is a through-line amongst these nearly 1000 pages. Characters meander in conversation, in action, and in nonaction. Several pages are dedicated to situations in which people drink tea, or whiskey, and listen to the voluminous vinyl record collection left behind by Tomohiko Amada. Again, this is vintage Murakami stuff.
Why Menshiki lives where he does, and why he is so willing to befriend the narrator are the crux of the story here, although the majority of that story is wrapped up in the first 500 pages of Killing Commendatore.
The second half of the novel takes a turn into the magical realism for which Murakmi's earlier works are so beloved. Ideas become physical manifestations, Metaphors become jester-like guides, and Double Metaphors can swallow you whole.
To be fair, I'm not sure I would have made the connection between Fitzgerald's seminal work and Murakami's newest novel if it were not for the fact that it were spelled out for me in the promotional materials. I guess I'm not one for metaphors and the barren lands within they reside.
This is a major work, although it will not be for everyone. Fans of Murakami will almost certainly find something to love here. There are a few clumsy turns of phrase, and the female characters are very underwritten. The spirited journey of our narrator though, are enough to propel readers through this winding tome. Frequently I found myself turning the page for "just one more chapter", as I needed to know where all of this was going.
And to be honest, it doesn't go much of anywhere. And that's beautiful. True resolution is the green light on Daisy's pier, always just out of reach.
— Chris Linendoll
This book will more than satisfy any steadfast Murakami fan. I'm just not sure it will bring in many new readers with its intimidating length and oh-so-slowly-burning plot. — Josh Cohen-Peyton
The epic new novel from the internationally acclaimed and best-selling author of 1Q84
In Killing Commendatore, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors. A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art—as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby—Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.
About the Author
HARUKI MURAKAMI was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages, and the most recent of his many international honors is the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award, whose previous recipients include J. K. Rowling, Isabel Allende, and Salman Rushdie. Translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen.
“Eccentric and intriguing, Killing Commendatore is the product of a singular imagination. . . . Murakami is a wiz at melding the mundane with the surreal. . . . He has a way of imbuing the supernatural with uncommon urgency. His placid narrative voice belies the utter strangeness of his plot. . . . The worldview of Murakami’s novels is consistent, and it’s invigorating. In this book and many that came before it, he urges us to embrace the unusual, accept the unpredictable.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Some novelists hold a mirror up to the world and some, like Haruki Murakami, use the mirror as a portal to a universe hidden beyond it. . . . He builds his self-contained world deliberately and faithfully, developing intrigue and suspense and even taking care to give each chapter a cliffhanger ending as in an old-fashioned serialized novel. . . . When you’re under Mr. Murakami’s trance you’re likely to keep flipping the pages.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Wild, thrilling. . . . Murakami is a master storyteller and he knows how to keep us hooked.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“[Killing Commendatore] marks the return of a master.” —Esquire
“More of Murakami’s magical mist, but its size, beauty, and concerns with lust and war bring us back to the vividness and scale of his 1997 epic, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.’’ —The Boston Globe
“No ordinary trip; get ready for a wild ride.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Again and again, the author of 1Q84 has delivered vast, complicated and engrossing narratives that bind together in unpredictable ways that are absolutely worth the wait. True to form, his latest comes in at just over 700 pages. The story of a painter’s discovery of a lost work of art builds to a superb puzzle of monumental philosophical and emotional depth.” —BookPage
“Murakami returns with a sprawling epic of art, dislocation, and secrets. . . . Pleasingly beguiling.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Yes, there are mysterious portals, a strange world, a journey and a quest, but these elements are relatively minor in both scale and import in a novel that is more concerned with utterly human concerns, including aging, love, parentage, marriage, and what it means to be both a man and an adult. The fantastic elements are just a part of the narrator’s journey, the meaning and significance of which emerge only gradually for reader and narrator alike.” —Toronto Star
“A meticulous yet gripping novel whose escalating surreal tone complements the author’s tight focus on the domestic and the mundane. . . . Consistently rewarding.” —Publishers Weekly