I’ve seen reviews describe Haruki Murakami’s latest opus as ‘rambling’, and I would have to agree. Killing Commendatore is a slow-paced and lengthy odyssey into a traditionally mysterious and unresolved Murakami wonderland. This time, I struggled to keep my eyes open for long sections in the early and middle sections of the book. But this is just something you have to accept about a Murakami novel – he spends painstaking time creating both the ordinary and the extraordinary worlds his characters inhabit. But I’d suggest this is one for the fans only – his earlier works are a little punchier.
Isolation is a key theme of many of Murakami’s novels, and the unnamed protagonist here is a portrait painter unceremoniously rejected by his wife. Seeking refuge and solitude, he ends up living in the remote mountains of Odawarra, in the home of a once famous painter, Tomohiko Amada. There he uncovers a painting that was never made public. It depicts a Japanese portrayal of a murder in Don Giovanni (opera being another key element in many of Murakami’s works). The discovery of the painting sets off a chain of unusual events that are never really brought completely into the light. he befriends a rich stranger , who encourages him to paint the portrait of a young girl – a girl he believes may be his daughter. Alongside this, a mysterious bell chiming in the middle of the night leads him to a tomb and a mysterious little figure, an ‘Idea’ personified in the form of the Commendatore of the picture.
While the painter is inspired anew and begins several new works, yet each disturbs him somehow. He senses he is being drawn into a mystery that ties together Amada’s piece, Amada himself and the young girl he befriends. Eventually he must quest to save her when she disappears from the world to a place only he can enter.
The painter likes to keep many of his portraits unfinished – a reflection of Murakami’s own desire not to tie up the ends of his narrative neatly. Once again this is a lyrical, strange and beautiful novel, but one that may have been more satisfying.