cover image Killing Commendatore

Killing Commendatore

Haruki Murakami, trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. Knopf, $30 (704p) ISBN 978-0-525-52004-7

Murakami%E2%80%99s latest (following Men Without Women) is a meticulous yet gripping novel whose escalating surreal tone complements the author%E2%80%99s tight focus on the domestic and the mundane. The unnamed narrator, a talented but unambitious portrait-painter in Tokyo, discovers his wife is having an affair, quits painting, and embarks on a meandering road trip. The narrator%E2%80%99s friend offers to let him stay in the home of his father, Tomohiko Amada, a famous, now-senile painter whose difficult secret from 1930s Vienna unfurls over the course of the book. Once situated on the quiet, mysterious mountainside outside Odawara, the narrator begins teaching painting classes and finds a hidden, violent painting of Amada%E2%80%99s in the attic called Killing Commendatore, an allegorical adaptation of Don Giovanni. He begins two affairs%E2%80%94one with an older woman who sparks the novel whenever she appears%E2%80%94and is commissioned by the enigmatic Mr. Menshiki to paint his portrait. Menshiki is preoccupied with a 13-year-old girl named Mariye%E2%80%94an intriguing character, but one whom the book has an unfortunate tendency to sexualize. At night, the narrator is haunted by a ringing bell coming from a covered pit near his house. This eventually leads him to a magical realm that includes impish physical manifestations of ideas and metaphors. His discovery provokes a pivotal, satisfying moment in his artistic development on the way to a protracted, mystic denouement. The story never rushes, relishing digressions into Bruce Springsteen, the simple pleasures of freshly cooked fish, and the way artists sketch. As the narrator uncovers his talents, the reading experience becomes more propulsive. Murakami%E2%80%99s sense of humor helps balance the otherworldly and the prosaic, making this a consistently rewarding novel. 250,000-copy announced first printing. (Oct.)