Tsundoku Reader

A blog on Japanese books, mostly untranslated, that deserve a wider audience outside of Japan

Haruki Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore”

騎士団長殺し、村上春樹、新潮社、2017

Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami; Shinchosha, 2017

Fans finally get their hands on Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore” at midnight on February 24 in Tokyo; Source: Sankei Shimbun

Details about Haruki Murakami’s first multi-volume novel in seven years were more carefully guarded than state secrets are these days. The eager public was only given the title of the two-volume work and pictures of their covers, and it was only after the book’s release that we even had a basic plot summary. The Japanese TV show Close-up Gendai dedicated an episode to the enthusiasm a new book of Murakami’s creates, interviewing fans waiting outside bookstores in the pre-launch hours and reporting on a group of fans who got together to discuss their theories on the book’s story based solely on the title and cover.

Many bookstores began selling the book right at midnight, pulling down sheets draped over the piles of books with great fanfare. Sanseido’s Jimbocho branch held an event from midnight in which customers could buy their copies and then stay and stay up all night reading together in the store. The store even provided soft drinks and lap blankets. Fans in Hokkaido were forced to wait an extra day as the release date was delayed due to the derailment of a JR freight train.

Staff preparing for the release; Source: Asahi Shimbun

Although I have not made my way through all 1,000 pages of this book, my general impression is that this is a great introduction to Murakami for someone who has never read him before because all of his favorite themes and motifs are packed into this book. After abandoning this approach in his recent novels, Murakami has returned to the use of an unnamed narrator who simply refers to himself with the first-person pronoun “watashi” (in the past he has often used the more informal “boku”).

 

Eager fans reading Murakami’s latest just after its release on midnight on February 24; Source: Asahi Shimbun

The narrator is a 36 year-old portrait painter whose life is thrown off kilter when his wife announces that she wants a divorce. Trying to figure out where things went wrong, he travels through Hokkaido and Tohoku, ending up at a mountaintop house built by his friend’s father, a famous painter named Tomohiko Amada. Here he encounters two mysteries: a painting by Amada called “Killing Commendatore,” and a stone hut carved out beneath a rock in a nearby forest. Moreover, real blood drips from the picture, and in the middle of the night our narrator hears a bell that seems to come from this cave, as if someone is signaling for help. By this point we are firmly in Murakami’s world, complete with caves and walls and estranged wives.

Rounding off the main cast are Menshiki, a middle-aged man living in a large house in the opposite valley who offers the narrator an exorbitant sum of money to paint a portrait, and Marie Akigawa, a mysterious and beautiful thirteen year-old girl (she reminds me of the girl with the mysterious ears in “Wild Sheep Chase”). The story line also includes accounts of wars in Europe and China, an interest of Murakami’s that has made its way into his recent novels. And for a little narrative relief in between his Alice-in-Wonderland adventures, our narrator cooks pasta and listens to jazz and classical music.

4 Comments

  1. This sounds fascinating, Erika. I love the Harry Potter-style excitement about the publication. I haven’t read any Murakami. Where do you suggest I start? I like the sound of this new book but I suppose it will be some time before it’s translated.

    • Erika

      March 15, 2017 at 10:30 am

      You read such a range of books, Lyn, that you just might like him! I’d start with Wild Sheep Chase or Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Here’s an article that makes suggestions on where to start: http://bookoblivion.com/the-best-way-to-read-haruki-murakami/. I’m sure this new book will be translated, but even his newest book of short stories has yet to be published in translation. Philip Gabriel, one of Murakami’s translators, said that he tries to do a rough draft of 3-4 pages a day! And Killing Commendatore is over a 1,000 pages…

      • what the title of his newest short stories book?

        • Erika

          June 10, 2017 at 10:03 pm

          I think “Men Without Women” is his latest collection of short stories to be published in English, which was published in Japanese back in 2014. He seems to alternate short stories and translations with longer novels so now after Killing Commendatore, maybe there will be more short stories soon. He published some travel essays in 2015 too, called ラオスにいったい何があるというんですか?–he’s very productive!

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