Review: Killing Commendatore

I became familiar with the Japanese author Haruki Murakami during my current fiction-gorging phase. How could I have been unfamiliar with such a gifted author? It’s not an excuse but I go through long periods during which I don’t read fiction.

Murakami’s style is first-person intimate heightened with surrealism; all of it served very imaginatively. Surrealistic or meta-realistic themes are important plot elements but his novels are “realistic”–scare quotes required. The author is well-read and kindly intentioned. Unkind authors are never great artists.

When I finished the 46-hour audio recording of 1Q84, I was disappointed that the story ended so soon. Sure, 1Q84 has problems, many of them significant. Some characters and situations are not convincing and a few parts seem formulaic. But Murakami overcame those problems–in fact, he obliterated them. This is what all good artists do: they force you to ignore their limitations.

When I finished 1Q84, I immediately started listening to the audio recording of Killing Commendatore. In contrast to 1Q84, I was relieved when I finished the 26-hour recording.

The main character is an artist–a painter, which is part of my problem with the novel. What the author writes about painting is bunk; a good try but my disbelief is never suspended. The heart of the book is a failure for me so it exacerbates the novel’s other problems.

The surrealistic elements are once again important to the plot, but, again to contrast this book with 1Q84, they do not overcome my disbelief. Instead of being fascinating and charming, the novel’s meta-realism feels contrived.

Finally, some novelists, impressed with their own intelligence, lecture their readers about what they consider important topics. Of course, most authors only betray their limited knowledge when they do this. There is some of that here. Thankfully, 1Q84 has almost none of that. I’m guessing this novel is a one-off in this regard for Murakami.

Sill, Killing Commendatore is a solid novel, well worth reading. If you’re not a painter, you’ll probably not mind the discussions about painting. My primary criticism is that this novel is not as good as 1Q84–not even close.

Killing Commendatore is 3 stars; 1Q84 is 5 stars.

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