"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. ~ Reviewed by Chris Linendoll