Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

“It seems as if, year after year, the world becomes a more difficult place to live.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 763 pages.
Read from November 29, 2018 to December 6, 2018.

The last full-fledged novel Murakami published is the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage which was published in spring of 2013. While Murakami published some short stories since then, Men Without Women in the spring of 2014, fans like myself have been waiting for his next feature-length publication with much anticipation. Based on some of the reviews that I have read, I can sense some disappointment within Murakami fan base with this novel, I, however, do not share their sentiments.

An unnamed portrait painter in his mid-thirties is going through a divorce as a result of an affair on his wife’s part. After leaving home he wanders aimlessly for a few weeks and tells his agent that he is no longer interested in doing any more portrait commissions, his only source of income. The protagonist isn’t an especially passionate portrait artist but he is very good at it. He has a gift for being able to capture a person’s inner essence and soul. After an old art school friend reaches out to him and offers to let him rent his famous father’s old painting studio to live in, our protagonist isn’t really in a position to refuse. The home is a quaint mountain retreat out in the middle of nowhere. He begins teaching an art class in the closest town before starting an affair with two of his students, despite desperately missing his wife.

After getting a call from his agent saying that someone is offering him a ridiculous amount of money to paint a portrait, the protagonist decides to take on the job, though he has found no inspiration or desire to paint since moving. This is how he meets his peculiar and interesting neighbour, Menshiki. Menshiki is an attractive, middle-aged man with stark white hair, he is also clearly wealthy. The reasons for Menshiki wanting such an expensive portrait are unknown to the protagonist but he is intrigued. Menshiki has given him unlimited license to paint the portrait in whatever way or method he sees fit, provided that Menshiki sits for the portrait itself, a method that the protagonist doesn’t like to use.

After meeting Menshiki, the protagonist finds a painting in the attic of the home that has been wrapped up and hidden. After unwrapping the picture called “Killing Commendatore” it becomes clear that this is an unknown piece of work was done by the famous artist that used to live there. The protagonist becomes enthralled with the exquisite painting and stares at it for days.

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Found an image resembling someone’s interpretation of  “Killing Commendatore” by bongsancomics.

Shortly after he is inspired and begins painting again. The recovery of “Killing Commendatore” has also brought with it a strange sound that emanates from a pit of rocks outside his home at the same time every evening. With Menshiki’s help, he aims to determine the cause of the sound, without knowing the whimsical and strange events that were to come.

I didn’t even notice that the protagonist wasn’t named. It wasn’t until I saw other people’s reviews that I went back to the book to verify that it. The writing makes it seem so natural that the protagonist doesn’t have a name because it feels like you already know him. The story, as with many Murakami books, is a slow burner that is part philosophical and part whimsical fantasy. The book contains Murakami’s trademark beautiful prose with themes of loneliness, war, family and inspiration. I particularly enjoyed some of the historical details on WWII. There are also, of course, awkward conversations with characters involving breasts and plenty of sex and peculiar sex dreams. While I know other readers found this book a bit drab I found it captivating. I felt like I knew every inch of the home the protagonist was living in and felt enveloped in the world and the characters that Murakami created. This book was even nominated for one of 2018’s Bad Sex in Fiction award and I still really enjoyed it.

While I admit that the music and cultural references that Murakami uses in this book are dated making the book feel somewhat socially irrelevant but this is the way Murakami has always written. Murakami has always included tidbits of things that he likes, such as very specific music references and detailed scenes of cooking.

While this book is far from Murakami’s best I still found it to be an immensely enjoyable read. It’s not the best book to start with if you haven’t read anything by Murakami before but it is still a must read for anyone that is familiar with his work.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

“Everyone may be ordinary, but they’re not normal.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from August 14, 2018 to September 11, 2018.

Further down the rabbit hole I go as I try to read all of Murakami’s extensive list of published works. I picked this one up because a friend had read it an enjoyed it and well, the title; it’s definitely peculiar but it is an understatement to the strangeness of this plot.

There are two parallel narratives with many unnamed characters that take place in this book; The End of the World is full of whimsical beasts and a town where everyone is content, though neither joyous or unhappy because they do not have shadows. The End of World is narrated by a newcomer who is trying to figure out how to rejoin with his shadow while also continuing his work as the dream reader at the local library. The other realm, Hard-Boiled Wonderland, is set in a futuristic world and the narrator is a divorced loner and data processor who comes to help a rogue scientist with his data while meeting his chubby, attractive daughter. The curious and scandalous events with the scientist, bring the data processor to his local library to try and learn more about his experiences, in which he meets the attractive librarian that will help him unravel some of his questions. Little does the data processor know, that the events that take place with the scientist will alter his reality and leave him with an unfathomable choice. As this extensive metaphor unfolds, you come to realize that the choice the data processor makes mirrors of that of the newcomer in The End of World…

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Micah Lidberg
Image created by Micah Lidberg. Source: Paddle8

I’ll just say this now. This has been my least favourite Murakami novel so far. While I appreciate what Murakami was trying to draw on with the conscious and the subconscious mind, he failed on delivering it in an enjoyable and cohesive manner. Murakami literally spent pages, trying to explain all the details to get the reader to understand his complex metaphor and the differences between the two worlds. The setting and the characters were not that engrossing and the metaphor was too forced and waaaaay to drawn out. The End of World was the most fascinating place but I also found the nuances and complexities of Hard-Boiled Wonderland less so. I also got really tired of the way the data processor viewed the chubby underaged daughter of the scientist (especially with the emphasis on her weight) and the sexualization of the librarian. I know it wouldn’t be a Murakami novel without weird sex, that is something I like about Murakami, but this scenario just did not work for me.

I still enjoyed enough aspects of this book to give it a fair rating but it is not a book I would partake in again (even if it meant potentially understanding and appreciating it more) nor would I recommend it as a go-to Murakami read. It is a whimsical read with fun and intriguing aspects but it is also an ambitious read as it’s literally a 400+ page metaphor. If you’re up for the challenge and are prepared for its intricate strangeness and philosophy you might find more enlightenment and enjoyment from this book than I did.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“That’s what it’s like to lose a woman. And at a certain time, losing one woman means losing all women. That’s how we become men without women.”

“No matter how empty it may be, this is still my heart.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 240 pages.
July 3, 2017 to July 6, 2017.

Men get lonely too and are perhaps the worst at dealing with it. Who better to put that masculine pain into words than Murakami. This book contains seven unique stories about men who have lost or have been unable to attain that special lady in their lives. From cheating, divorce and death, this book is a tragic read with relatable emotions. As with all of Murakami’s works, you are taken down a rabbit hole to another world of emotions and feelings that we keep hidden away.

In the story titled, Samsa in Love, Gregor Samsa, the notorious character from Kafka’s work, wakes up to find that he is no longer and insect but rather a human and learns to find love. A creative and reverse take on the classic story.

My favourite character by far was the female driver in the story Drive My Car. A gentleman actor hires a driver to get him around. He prefers female-drivers and his latest hire is a tough and unreadable woman with whom he feels compelled to share his sadness, fears and secrets.

My favourite story, however, is The Independent Organ. Dr.Tokai is a successful and unmarried man. He has managed to live his life without becoming attached to a single woman and lives his life in an array of numerous affairs with women who interest him.  Above all, they had to be intellectually stimulating to him. If he thinks that the woman is becoming attached to him he respectfully ends the affair.  In the end, he falls for a woman who was very much like him with relationships. She was not exclusively his, which he did not know, and when he wants to express his love he learns that she has pursued another man instead of him. Devastated, the doctor starves himself to death. He deprived his life of meaningful love for so long that when he finally felt it he could not cope with the heartbreak. It is in this story that the most misogynist passage is found:

“Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie. This was Dr. Tokai’s personal opinion. It depends on the person, he said about the kind of lies they tell, what situation they tell them in, and how the lies are told. But at a certain point in their lives, all women tell lies, and they lie about important things. They lie about unimportant things, too, but they also don’t hesitate to lie about the most important things. And when they do, most women’s expressions and voices don’t change at all, since it’s not them lying, but this independent organ they’re equipped with that’s acting on its own. That’s why – except for a few special cases – they can still have a clear conscience and never lose sleep over anything they say.”

Rather than being offended by this passage, I saw it as the naive view that Dr.Tokai had of women. For all the time he spent with women, he did not know or understand anything about them or how his own choices and lies affected them. This passage is about him as he projects his faults onto women and it is this exact perception that validates his detachments.

This book is for everyone. As we have all felt lonely at one point in our lives. For those that love Murakami, this is a nice addition to the expanding Murakami collection of works. Even for those that are not fans or have not read Murakami yet, this collaboration of short stories is a tame introduction to his world and writing style.