“Killing Commendatore” by Haruki Murakami – a book review

"Killing Commendatore" by Haruki Murakami Book Cover
MURAKAMI Haruki, Killing Commendatore, Harvill Secker, 2018 [original 2017], 681 p.

A disturbing number of references to breasts, cats in cameo roles and psychedelic reveries (and realities) — Killing Commandatore is without doubt a Murakami novel. The narrator, a painter in his thirties seemingly disconnected from the social world yet in touch with art, music and literature, quite easily joins the genealogy of this writer’s characters. But while these classic pointers exist, accompanied with the celebrated Japanese author’s signature surreal existentialism, this novel ultimately fails to stand at par with his other works. In the end, the “naturalness” with which Murakami writes unnaturalness is bogged down by unnecessary repetitions, convoluted narrative lines and unsatisfactory endings. 

My overall rating : 7/15

Epistemologically tickling ✰✰

Stylistically appealing ✰✰✰

Effective execution-wise ✰✰

After a failed marriage, a portrait painter finds himself living in the house of his friend’s father Tomohiko Amada. Once a famous Japanese artist, Amada is now staying at a hospital, having succumbed to old age and mental difficulties. The painter-cum-narrator is thus left alone up in the mountains where the artist’s house stood. There, he attempts to uncover three mysteries : the story behind the painting Killing Commendatore that Amada had carefully hidden in the attic ; the eccentric requests of his rich white-haired neighbor Menshiki ; and the mysterious bell that rings in the woods at night, keeping him awake. 

The story of the Mummified priests makes this novel border on the paranormal.

Murakami’s latest novel indeed lives up to its genre label psychological thriller. Often gliding between the paranormal and the philosophical, the novel manages to produce a set of mysteries that keeps the reader flipping through the pages.

At least for a while.

The thrill, as one realizes some 200 pages into the book, does not last. Spurs of excitement jolt the readers every now and then, but to borrow Murakami’s own figurative language, the sieve just does not hold the water. The holes in the book multiply incessantly, such that it becomes tiring to read through to its thickness without getting a glimpse of an answer.

This normally works in his other novels. Except here, the answers to the mysteries presented seem to evade not only the readers, but the author himself. One might wonder if the author was aiming for something so profound, it refused to be written on the pages; or something so complex, he himself cannot write it down.

There is a general reflection on art : the production of an idea and the insidious fear of creating something sublime and beyond comprehension. Sadly, however, Murakami seems to have fallen into the very trap of what he calls double metaphors. The novel ceases to be coherent towards the middle, the metaphors become obscure, and the ending does not match up to the seemingly intended meaning of the work.

A few notes

Having read a number of Murakami books, my expectations were, needless to say, high for this latest novel. Here are some of his novels that I’ve read and enjoyed:

  • Dance, Dance, Dance (1988)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997)
  • Sputnik Sweetheart (2001)
  • Kafka on the Shore (2005)
  • 1Q84 (2011)
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2014)

If you have just discovered this author, I advise you to start with Kafka on the Shore. 1Q84 is one of my favorites but it might be too long for a first-read (about 900 pages plus). Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is also a good one to start with in my opinion.

Your turn!

What did you think about Murakami’s latest novel? Have you read his other works? If yes, which one and what are your thoughts about them? And what is it with Japanese literature and cats, really? ^^

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3 thoughts on ““Killing Commendatore” by Haruki Murakami – a book review

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