“Killing Commendatore”

“Killing Commendatore” by Haruki Murakami with translation by Ted Goossen grabs readers starting with the cover – an eyeball looking straight out.

“Killing Commendatore” opens with a faceless man who wants a portrait painted. This sets the stage for the tale of this strange but somehow normal painter. The narrator talks directly to the reader reporting his history and hinting at things that are far from normal. A word of caution for some readers; there is sexual content.

“That may be the reason why, when I think back on that time (as you guessed, these events took place some years ago), the importance, perspective, and connections between events sometimes fluctuate … Still, here I want to do my utmost, as far as I can, to set down a systematic, logical account… I want to cling tightly to the hypothetical yardstick I’ve managed to fashion.”

Vivid descriptions pull readers into a setting that is itself a character, distinct and expressly described.

“Low patches of clouds hung over the surrounding mountains. When the wind blew, these cloud fragments, like some wandering spirits from the past, drifted uncertainly along the surface of the mountains, as if in search of lost memories. The pure white rain, like fine snow, silently swirled around on the wind. Since the wind rarely let up, I could even get by in the summer without air conditioning.”

The narrator talks to others, he talks to himself, and talks to readers who get to know him well throughout his narrative. He shares his thoughts, intimate fears, and expectations. He presents the events as straightforward and concise, but behind it all, there hangs an air of suspicion and disbelief. Readers want to believe him, and yet are anxious as he hints of what is to come (“I’ll get into that later on.”)

The story of his life continues in what he describes as a series of dominoes falling, one after the other, tumbling, crashing, one pushed by one preceding. Little events cause his world to collapse around him, and he shares every detail with readers. He continues day-by-day on a mostly linear timeline, some days uneventful, some troubling, and some frightening. He presents events in a calm, measured manner, but many events are far from calm and measured. Readers are left to speculate about his veracity and assessment of events.

Murakami paints with words as the unnamed painter uses paint.

“Maybe I was just imagining things. Maybe it was my own voice I was hearing, a voice welling up from my unconscious. But what I’d heard sounded odd. Not an easy thing to do, now, is it? Even unconsciously, I wouldn’t talk to myself like that.”

Readers must evaluate the events, the relationships, the mysteries, and the result. “Killing Commendatore” is a long trip and a very long book, but one that pulls readers along with fantasy, and intrigue. In the end, there is an idea, a metaphor, and perhaps a question.