Like all or most Haruki Murakami books, this is a strange novel. It has his characters’ weird obsessions with food, sex, breast size, and a slightly off-balance orientation to the world. And like all his novels, or most of his novels, it has simple language describing interesting or complex ideas, and a struggle to make dialogue seem to represent real people and their conversations. (This exact idea will be the opposite in a future review of Marilynne Robinson’s Home, coming soon).
This is a relatively rich novel. It’s complex and most of it works. Our protagonist is a portrait artist and this specific career is defined in the novel as less serious than a visual artist (one who creates for artistic expression versus someone who employs their skills for commission) and this question is also reflective of the questions surrounding writers in genre versus “serious” fiction. But also, there’s a kind of interesting gap in the logic of “serious” art as so many of the famous paintings we know and the artists we revere were contract painters (and even Shakespeare wrote on commission).
So the plot here is that our artist lead has become recently divorced artist has moved into his art school friend’s artist father’s house. The father was a famous Japanese-style artist, trained in Vienna before WWII, and is now enfeebled and experiencing dementia in a rest home. While in this house he also begins sleeping with a married woman and teaching art classes to kids and seniors. He also finds an elaborate, beautiful painting in the attic of the house, the eponymous “Killing Commendatore”, painted by the elder painter and representing a famous death scene from Don Giovanni.
So that’s where begin and I cannot begin to explain where it goes from there. It’s a smaller and more intimate novel than say IQ84 and more reminds me of earlier novels like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle than some of the more out there ones. I also think this more intimate feels and more meandering sense, even though shorter, makes this a much richer novel (though I think IQ84 is “better”).