Review: Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami - 3/10*
I am so unbelievably disappointed with this book. What should I talk about first, the bland characters, the flat plot or the convoluted prose? Either way it stank of mediocrity.
This doesn’t feel like a Murakami novel. It doesn’t sound like a Murakami novel and it doesn’t act like one. I went back and read certain passages from After Dark and breathed in (once again) the beautifully rhythmic nature of the prose. It just flows from one sentence to the next, from word to word, forming a story that constantly progressed forward. This did not move. The prose was circular and constantly repeated mundane details about the plot that I already knew. I found myself wanting to skip sections that sounded like paragraphs I’d read before.
And that’s bad, real bad storytelling. It lacks the precision that makes Murakami’s writing so compelling; it lacks the usual edginess and the spark that keeps the words alive. Murakami novels rely on the uncanny, on coincidence and strange encounters that seem normal but have an undercurrent of anxiety and oddness. Some of that was here in a watered down and convoluted form. The problem is the novel is simply too big for the small amount of story it contained. It has the essence of his tropes, a shadow of them, but the prose is too weak to carry them forward.
The protagonist is an artist who has just separated from his wife. He moves to a mountain retreat and fails to paint anything until he finds inspiration in the face of his rich neighbour. He listens to some classical music, digs up a bell and fixates over his dead sister’s breasts. He sleeps with some women in his art class and displays the usual middle-age egotistical personality that I’ve already seen before in Murakami’s fiction. Give me something new! Give me a character that stands out from your others and surprises me with his personality and decisions. I fear the author’s characters have become a little generic.
Murakami has found a niche with his writing and he dominates it; he is not like any other author I have read, and his novels are distinctively his. But in recent years I feel he has started to play it safe. His short story collection from last year Men Without Women was very much the same kind of thing, a brief echo of what he can do but nothing more. So this is a very poor book from a great writer and, as ever, it is demonstrative of how less is sometimes much more.
And I’m quite sad to write these words. If I’m critical of Murakami, it’s because I know exactly how well he can write. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage moved me to tears whereas this moved me to boredom. I hope his next book has a little more energy.