A labyrinthine, magical realist new novel from the acclaimed author of Kafka on the Shore and IQ84. A thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances.
...immersive, repetitive, big-hearted ... As is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, a plot of relative simplicity ... This stuff is very Murakami. Killing Commendatore repeats almost exactly, for example, the descent through a well to a magical world that occurs in his earlier novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle ... Killing Commendatore gets the balance right ... In long, powerful passages, Murakami describes painting with the intensity of what seems like just-concealed autobiography.
A chilling and creepy prologue...establishes a hallucinatory mood. Harbingers of disaster mount. The tone is detached, wry, a blend of whimsy and profundity, matter-of-fact reporting and dreamy meditation. And many of the familiar Murakami preoccupations are present: a middle-aged male protagonist adrift and haunted by trauma and lost love, vinyl records, lonely men yearning for connection and transcendence, existential musings, talking creatures ... These delicate, amorphous, even insubstantial materials of identity provide a richly tenuous ground for Murakami’s obsessive inversions ...
In this book, however, Murakami seems to have lost a bit of his conjuror’s dexterity. Those ineffable effects, relying on sophisticated and probably instinctual balances of one invisible force against another, fail when things become unsteady, when the conductor falls a fraction behind the beat. At times the book reads like a literature graduate student’s fever dream. Other sections feel like a history textbook. The counterpoise of humor and poignancy so crucial to Murakami’s other works feels awkward. Halfway through, the plot runs out of steam and invention ... Killing Commendatore’ seems a hanging curveball, among the many darting sliders and knuckleballs of Murakami’s previous works.
The novel offers some promising mysteries ... As historical secrets and hauntings begin to pile on top of one another, one has the sense of a writer throwing a lot of ideas against a wall in the hope that something will stick. The plot is full of melodramatic bustle, but its wheels spin without gaining much traction ... In Killing Commendatore, the narrator’s dreaminess mainly feels unfocused, and a story that might have been engaging at 300 or 400 pages is drawn out to almost 700 ... Killing Commendatore is a baggy monster, a disappointment from a writer who has made much better work.