Book Review: Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

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Killing Commendatore was published last October, after four years of silence from the author, and was surrounded by great mystery; the only information released was that it was going to be ‘longer than Kafka on the Shore and shorter than 1Q84’. As an avid Murakami reader, while reading it, I got struck by the idea that this might be the last book the author will write.

Murakami disseminates the book with references to his previous books, and some were adapting or rewriting scenes from precedent work. The protagonist, during his years of marriage, once spent all night sleeping next to a woman but didn’t have sex with her; the same episode happened to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles’ main character. Even the marriage dynamics are similar between the couples of the two books, but in Killing Commendatore the past of the protagonist mirrors the one of the protagonist’s wife in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. A phenomenon that has great importance in the novel is the one of a bell mysteriously ringing at night in the woods, as it happens in Sputnik Sweetheart; and as in Sputnik Sweetheart, one of the main characters has white hair, independently from their age.

Menshiki is The Japanese version of Gatsby: he lives in a big isolated house, he is wealthy and is not clear how he made his money. He wears refined expensive clothes, a valley separates him from his neighbour, and he spends his days observing a girl on the other side of the valley, whom he suspects is his illegitimate daughter. He is older than Gatsby, being almost who Gatsby would have been if he didn’t commit suicide, alive but stuck in the same sorrow, mechanisms and habits.

There are also several references to traditional Japanese literature; particularly noteworthy is the one to Ueda Akinari’s Tales of the Spring Rain, the last book the author published, a year before his death. The bell ringing episode happens in the same way it did in one of those tales, and Menshiki gives the book to the protagonist, stressing how it is the last one from the author.

Another reason why this might be the last book Murakami will write is that it merges in a perfect and very aware balance the two strands of his production. The magical realism, oneiric one (as Kafka on the Shore and A Wild Sheep Chase) and the more intimist one (as Norwegian Wood and South of the Border, West of the Sun). There are many surreal elements in this book, such as the Commendatore itself, but they are weaved with stories of humans suffering and living in the world as we know it.

Killing Commendatore appears then to be the summa of all the previous works of the author and of all the cultural influences that lead him to write them, shaping his imagination: a homage to his career, to his passions and art as well. For it is foremost a book about art, about inspiration, creativity, and the love and needs an artist has for them.

Ruth-Anne Walbank

My name is Ruth, and I'm the Editor of SCAN for 2019-20. I have been the Arts and Culture Editor in 2018-19, and the Deputy Arts and Culture Editor before that. I've written over 80 articles for SCAN across a variety of sections.
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