Killing Commendatore
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Killing Commendatore

Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel, Ted Goossen

Qhen a thirty-something portrait painter is abandoned by his wife, he holes up in the mountain home of a famous artist. The days drift by, spent painting, listening to music and drinking whiskey in the evenings. But then he discovers a strange painting in the attic and unintentionally begins a strange journey of self-discovery that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt and a haunted underworld.

A stunning work of imagination, Killing Commendatore is a surreal tale of love and loneliness, war and art.   


Smoothly, calmly, Haruki Murakami leads us out to the latest outpost of his fictional universe. We survey the hillside and the lonely house in which the narrator has come to live. Once, it belonged to the father of a friend of his, a famous painter. And now, the narrator, a painter himself, but not famous, has landed up there. We know, of course, we readers, that there will be something else out in those woods. Something other. Something that has been waiting for this not-famous painter-narrator to take up residence in the remote cabin. Something is waiting for him, and it will insinuate itself into his life and then invert it. There will be meals and sex and weirdness, and we readers will not blink. We’ll take it all in. Or, okay, we will blink, but not often. This painter’s life, and ours, will get inverted, then inverted again. There’s something out there, waiting, in the woods.

Haruki Murakami’s new novel is a great big joyous elephant of a book. The care that he takes with the set-up of the ‘normal life’ of the protagonist, followed by the narrative’s spiral into multiple strangenesses, means that the reader has a reliable backdrop of calm against which to position, almost to arrange, the arrival of the inevitable weird elements. As in other fiction by Murakami, I am almost convinced that he is as surprised and delighted as I am by what turns up on the page. In some of his other books, this improvisatory effect has extended into the conclusion of the book, making the endings unsatisfactory. But in Killing Commendatore, Murakami meticulously constructs a physical space from which to unfurl unconventional ideas and characters, then he carefully folds those extraordinary things back out of sight, but not out of mind.

Bernard Caleo is a member of the Readings events team.

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