Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami


Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami spoke to me as both an artist and a writer. His latest novel has the usual mix of morally ambiguous characters, a fathomless pit, and World War II atrocities. The only missing element was a talking cat, but painted characters sprung to life off the canvas and double metaphors become a tangible threat. This cerebral book is quite meta. Murakami is a master of magical realism and one of my favorite authors. His originality inspired me to write fiction.

Murakami's new novel is set in recent times, but the 36-year-old protagonist eschews technology to focus on abstract art after his wife leaves him. On a remote Japanese mountain, the unnamed protagonist encounters a charismatic older man whose generous patronage might be a blessing or a curse. He also befriends a 13-year-old neighbor, who reminds him of his deceased sister. Murakami's female characters are strong and complex, leaving the nurturing, supportive role to the reluctant hero. The narrative is mostly realistic with surreal detours. The plot is hard to summarize but was easy to follow.

I have never read a better depiction of an artist's inner process. The focus on inspiration and technique was somewhat like a modern version of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring. As a professional artist myself, I related to his struggle over painting freely versus creating commercial art for clients. I loved how the book showed the tortuous but satisfying journey of oil painting and the wide range of artistic expression. However, the ending could have done more with the protagonist's personal evolution as an artist.

"What I was teaching them was less how to draw than a way to view the world."

Killing Commendatore wasn't as perfectly crafted as A Wind Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore, but I found it more compelling than his later novels. Although it wasn't as long as IQ84, 681 pages was still too heavy to hold in hand comfortably and too big to fit in my handbag so I read slowly. I enjoyed escaping into his imaginative world for nearly two months. I'd recommend Killing Commendatore to his fans and to anyone interested in art or Japan. With Chip Kidd's cool cover design (merging an eyeball with the moon), it would make a good gift.

The top photo of a remote temple village is from my sabbatical in Japan, where I was researching my work-in-progress, a noir mystery about a missing manga artist. I'll be offline until the weekend finishing a draft for teens and cultural sensitivity readers to read over vacation. Enjoy the holidays!

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

5 comments:

Barrie said...

Thank you for this thoughtful review and for taking time out from your current draft. Happy Holidays to you, as well!

Jenn Jilks said...

That sounds interesting! So different from what I am usually reading.

wheelerph said...

Now, this sounds like something completely different from what I usually read. Thanks for opening up some possibilities for me!

Powell River Books said...

Art is so important in our lives. When I taught elementary school I infused different media into lessons. It especially allowed young students with limited writing skills to express themselves. It hurts to see the arts cut from the curriculum when they can be used to support concepts in language arts and mathematics so well. - Margy

A Cuban In London said...

Interesting book. Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas! :-)

Greetings from London.