STAFF PICK: Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

Title: Killing Commendatore
Author: Haruki Murakami
Kirby Heyborne

Killing Commendatore sees Japan’s most celebrated author return with a lengthy, surreal homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved The Great Gatsby.

The novel opens in typical Murakami fashion with a perplexing prologue of a faceless man looking to have his portrait painted. As the opening draws to a dreamy end, the narrative dives into the life of a disillusioned, mildly successful portrait painter who leaves Tokyo after his marriage abruptly falls apart. After a weeks-long meander along the Japanese coast, he settles in the mountains in the secluded home of Tomohiko Amada, a famous Japanese painter. As our uninspired, nameless narrator attempts to reinvent his artistic career, a series of surreal incidents disrupt the thus-far tame and simple narrative.

Late one night, a rustling prompts the protagonist to investigate the attic, and it is there that he discovers a painting titled “Killing Commendatore” wrapped snugly in paper and tucked into a corner. The painting—a vivid portrayal of the titular murder in Mozart’s Don Giovanni—captivates the protagonist and he spends weeks basking in its presence. Then, his enigmatic neighbor—a tech mogul with a shock of white hair who is a thoroughly convincing Gatsby—orders his portrait painted. Before long, the narrator begins to hear a bell echoing through the night beginning precisely at 1:45 a.m., and thus follows a series of strange events involving a two-foot tall idea of a man, a missing thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt, and a journey into the underworld.

Killing Commendatore is a return to the poetic magic realism that Murakami is known for. It is a novel bursting with elements that will seem familiar to his fans: an unnamed, disillusioned male narrator, flashes of the surreal, an abundance of metaphors, and, of course, pasta and cats.

At 28 hours and 30 minutes, this nearly 700-page brick of a novel develops in slow, mystifying fragments which often meander into inaction. Yet, consuming the book never feels like a chore. Murakami teases the mystery with each mounting chapter, and Kirby Heyborne’s exquisite narration draws listeners immediately into the ever-more bewildering life of our anonymous narrator.

Although Killing Commendatore will not appeal to everyone, the novel is nevertheless a reminder that at age 69 with a plethora of novels and short stories under his belt, Haruki Murakami is still at the top of his game.

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