I have been a fan of Haruki Murakami’s books for more than a decade now, and I have read almost all of them. I was excited by the promise of this one, and indeed it seemed to contain all the things that make his writing so great, namely the blurring of realism and fantasy. Yet this was in fact a terrible book and I regret having wasted so much time reading it.
Killing Commendatore is the story of a painter whose wife suddenly leaves him. He drives around Japan for a while before settling on a mountain in the home of a famous painter who is now in an old folks’ home. The young painter, whose name we never learn, befriends a mysterious man who lives across the mountain, and finds a mysterious hole out back of his new house. In fact, as with most Murakami books, there is a whole lot of mystery. Even the somewhat normal things that happen are imbued with a certain mystery because the narrator views them that way.
Throughout the book, the narrator brings up the same ideas and events over and over, making you – as reader – wonder what they really mean. There is the whole outside his house, his odd neighbour, a girl he once slept with, a dream, a guy he saw in a café, and much more… All of these appear to be filled with magic and meaning because the narrator presented them that way.
I shan’t given any specific spoilers, but I will say this: nothing actually happens. Nothing is explained and no significance is given to any of the things that the narrator observes. This is a very long, winding book that goes nowhere. All the things that he makes you have interest in are in fact ignored by the end of the book. It seems to me that Murakami was just writing weird stuff and hoping that the book would come together by the end, but it didn’t.
If I was being kind, I might say it was a deliberate choice. In the book, the painter has a painting he doesn’t finish. The elder painter has one whose meaning is lost. Perhaps Murakami was echoing one or both of those in his own book that seems very much unfinished and lacking in conclusive meaning.
Or maybe it was just a rare terrible book by an otherwise talented author. I am more inclined towards this position as there are some genuinely terrible passages. The sex, for one thing, is poorly written (although Murakami was always hilariously bad at writing sex). But sometimes the grammar is just awful. I don’t mean that he is using a particular style that allows sentence fragments, but rather it is sometimes just plain wrong:
· It seems as if, year after year, the world becomes a more difficult place to live.
Don’t you mean “live in”? Or “a more difficult place in which to live”?
I suffered through this book because the story was at times quite engaging, but I feel tricked. It went nowhere and it was poorly written. I am sorely disappointed in one of my favourite living writers.