Our lives really do seem strange and mysterious when you look back on them. Filled with unbelievably bizarre coincidences and unpredictable, zigzagging developments. While they are unfolding, it’s hard to see anything weird about them, no matter how closely you pay attention to your surroundings. In the midst of the everyday, these things may strike you as simply ordinary things, a matter of course. They might not be logical, but time has to pass before you can see if something is logical.

i was very excited to obtain and read killing commendatore last fall, but i stopped reading the book halfway through after getting it for reasons that i don’t think i can quite chalk up to the book itself (i was reading it at work and i think it got temporarily dislocated in the move, which felt murakami-esque in its own way).

i finally resolved to finish it over the past week, which is perhaps the best thing i can say about the book: the prose is digestible and mellifluous, especially if you’ve read murakami before.

everyone knows about murakami bingo, and killing commendatore hits it in spades. i am of the camp that murakami bingo is a good thing; i love how his work takes these beats and plot points that you know are coming and combines them in new and interesting ways: wringing menace out of western iconography in kafka on the shore but mining it for beauty and virtue in 1q84.

but killing commendatore feels less like bingo and more like a checklist, i guess. of course there’s an enigmatic semi-sociopath who befriends the narrator. of course there’s a sex dream. of course there’s a weird incest thing. of course there’s a precocious teen with a weird relationship with school. of course there’s a well, and of course the well is a passage to another realm. it is the first time i’ve read a book of his and thought i have read this book before.

and it’s overlong! so much of it could have been trimmed:

  • weird, rambling digressions on the history and the mechanics of Jaguar cars. this is one of those things that just… does he not have an editor? at least ten pages of this book are dedicated to the history of the Jaguar car. murakami’s western obsessions are usually evocative or at least illustrative; here, it just feels like the mark of an author whose fame has outshone any need for editorial constraint.
  • mariye’s narrative of her four days spent in isolation felt like they should be a thrilling climax where we finally understand and internalize the tension of the characters; instead it is forty pages of passing the time.

all of this is negative — and it sounds like I liked it less than I did, which is to say that if it were from someone not named haruki murakami i would consider it an interesting debut and might check out the author’s other work. there were parts that i liked: menshiki is one of my favorite murakami characters, i think the narrator’s voice was more interesting than most, and i thought the thing that murakami was trying to explore — art as catharsis, and art as artifact — is really interesting and carries a certain weight to it. and i, in general, still felt the same shivers that define his work: the denouement, of the narrator driving away from this foreign place that changed him forever, did move me in a Proustian way (The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes., etc etc).

but it still felt like a cover band’s version of a murakami novel.

1q84 is unwieldy and overly ambitious, but has some of my favorite writing that murakami’s ever done (the town of cats, the Little People); the wind up bird chronicle has his best imagery; hard boiled wonderland / end of the world has his strongest grip of the collective subconscious; kafka on the shore is his leanest and most striking narrative. every murakami book has something unique and wonderful. except for this one.

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