Killing Killing Commendatore

I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Conquering ‘Commendatore’: Murakami brandishes familiar lexicon in latest novel.”

Hopefully this is the last I’ll have to deal with Killing Commendatore for a while. I didn’t really have a chance to get down and dirty with the text to illustrate all the thoughts I had about it, but I’m not sure the book deserves such a close look. I still haven’t finished reading the translation of 1Q84, and I’m not sure that I’ll get to Killing Commendatore in English either. 23 days is enough. No más.

But we need to have something for the blog post, so here are the other 惹かれる examples that I didn’t get to talk about in the Japan Times article. I marked this phrase throughout the book. I don’t think this is every instance, but it should give you a pretty good idea how Murakami uses this word.

Sometimes it’s simple—attraction:

私が妻に惹かれたのもまさにその目だった (Watashi ga tsuma ni hikareta no mo masa ni sono me datta, What attracted me about my wife were those eyes).

Here it’s closer to inspire, but attract still feels close; the narrator is talking about some style of painting that no longer inspires him:

私はそのようなタイプの絵画にもう心を惹かれなかった (Watashi wa sono yō na taipu no kaiga ni mō kokoro o hikarenakatta, But that type of painting no longer moved me)

The “Killing Commendatore” painting within the novel attracts the narrator quite a bit, as shown in these next two:

その絵は全体としてまた細部として、私の心をそれほど強く惹きつけていた (Sono e wa zentai to shite mata saibu to shite, watashi no kokoro o sore hodo tsuyoku hikitsukete ita, The painting fascinated me both in terms of its general structure and its details)


とくに私の関心を惹きつけたのは、五人の人物たちが顔に浮かべている表情だった (Toku ni watashi no kanshin o hikitsuketa no wa, gonin no jinbutsutachi ga kao ni ukabete iru hyōjō, The looks on each of their five faces especially interested me)

But in the end, it’s all about the money:

もちろん提示された報酬の金額にも心を惹かれた (Mochiron teiji sareta hōshū no kingaku ni mo kokoro o hikareta, Of course I was also impressed by the amount offered as compensation)

There’s a section with an extended discussion of Harusame Monogatari. Menshiki is particularly interested, as we see:

実を言うと、私はなぜか昔からあの話に心を惹かれてきたのです (Jitsu o iu to, watashi wa naze ka mukashi kara ano hanashi ni kokoro o hikarete kita no desu, To be honest, for some reason I’ve been fascinated by that story for a long time).

But as with many of the other references, Harusama Monogatari drops away pretty quickly.

I just got a comment on my post about my review of the book asking this question:

Considering your negative assessment, why on earth write the other piece, which to my recollection, didn’t even mention anything you wrote in your review? It could be seen as a tacit recommendation of the work, which is not what you wrote in your review.

This is a valid question. I guess the simplest answer is I needed something to write about. I felt like looking at the language Murakami uses would be interesting, and I think these examples do show something about how Murakami looks at the world. I probably should have mentioned something about the review, but the word count was a little tight (<—excuse). But I do feel like I managed to get a little warning about the book in the beginning of the piece. Apologies if anyone feels mislead. If you’re looking for a mammoth Murakami to tackle, I’d recommend his travel journal from his time in Europe, 『遠い太鼓』(Tōi taiko, A Distant Drum). I read half of it at some point when I was living in Japan, but got distracted by life and haven’t gotten around to finishing it. That’s a book that deserves a translation. I’m surprised it hasn’t been rendered in English yet.

Review: Murakami’s Kishidanchō-goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

My review of the new Murakami novel Killing Commendatore (騎士団長殺し) is in the Japan Times this week: “‘Killing Commendatore’: Murakami’s latest lacks inspired touch of earlier works

In short, it was not very good. I’ll be very curious to see how it turns out in translation and what the reviews are like. I haven’t seen any announcement of a translator or translation date so far.

The word count of the review prevented me from going into detail, partially because I couldn’t use many quotes and partially because it took so many words to summarize (about 550 of roughly 1000 words). I realize this could be my failing as a writer (although I’m pretty happy with my summary, notably with the absence of spoilers), but the book itself also eludes summary: once you start summarizing, you realize that you’re starting to give away the secrets of the book. Because so very little happens, summarizing any of the reveals gives away bit by bit some of the only development/pleasure of reading the book.

And there are so many secrets being kept in this book. Secrets between the narrator and Menshiki. Secrets between the narrator and Marie. As in 1Q84 (and other books?!), there are several points where the characters actively conspire to avoid involving the police—“They’d never believe us! And it could get troublesome for us.” At one point, the narrator allows an old man to go through what appears to be a tremendous amount of pain without calling for help at an old folks home while he has a conversation about how to proceed with solving the disappearance.

The pacing of the book also feels off. The first half is the narrator finding the painting, digging up the hole, and getting to know Menshiki and his mysteries, padded with some background story about himself and his family, which I was not able to address in the review. The second half, rather than beginning to unwind some of the build-up, goes on to introduce new characters and build up more mysteries before a disappearance in Chapter 45 (of 64) and the start of the true “adventure” in Chapter 53. I think the first half of the novel could have been much shorter than it was.

It’s difficult to express exactly how artlessly Murakami incorporates the historical information in this book. He uses his favorite device of having a character go research something at the freaking library, which he’s been doing since Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at least, although perhaps even as far back as A Wild Sheep Chase? I can’t remember.

On several other occasions, a character says something like “oh, by the way, I found out X” and then proceeds to drop fat blocks of dialogue that have no relation to the rest of their conversation or other plot development.

And Murakami takes the strange step of including a lengthy quote from Samuel Willenberg, survivor of the Treblinka extermination camp, as the entirety of Chapter 32, the final chapter in Book 1. (Which I guess suggests that the narrator chose the quote and decided to include it in his telling of the story?)

The goal seems to be to make a statement about art—the quote, which I believe is from a documentary but have not been able to track down/confirm, suggests that art can change/influence people, which doesn’t exactly jive with the novel. I’m not sure what it is that Murakami wants the reader to understand about art from reading this book.

The retrospective point of narration is equally lazy. This plays a part most noticeably in the first few chapters when the narrator feels very under control of how information is being presented. But it fades away quickly, leaving only vestigial, chapter-ending, retrospective paragraphs that help build some suspense going into the subsequent chapter, but even these fall away as the book progresses! The whole point of telling a story retrospectively is so you don’t have to do a blow by blow other than for the most dramatic incidents, but stream of conscious narration seems to be what Murakami is best at writing or considers most meaningful. He’s obsessed with his characters’ process of living/working, and he details those processes in nearly every book he writes.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Jay Rubin has written in his book on language about how easy it is for students of Japanese to mistake the pleasure of being able to read/understand Japanese for the literature itself actually being good. I don’t think I’m making that mistake here, as it was not fun to devote 23 days of my life to doing nothing but reading this book, but I do think that it can be difficult to grasp the whole of a work I’ve read in Japanese.

This is why I took loads of notes in the margins. This is why I wrote 28,668 words of chapter summaries. (NOTE: Write the summary immediately after you finish reading the chapter so that it’s a true summary and not just a write-up of your notes. I find it much easier to conceive of the chapter as a whole if I do it that way.) So I’m fairly confident in my evaluation. 1Q84 helped me notice many weaknesses about Murakami’s work, but this one has thrown them into stark contrast. The play-by-play narration works if the narrator is interesting and funny, as in his early works, but here there are just so many unnecessary details that feel given purely for the sake of describing something or because that’s what would have happened.

In my writing workshops, one workshop leader always had participants imagine the work under consideration in its best form at the end of the workshop. I think Killing Commendatore in its best form is a book that makes some kind of statement about art, what it does to viewers, how one makes it, why one makes it, what it means to devote your life to art, and how that can affect artists.

This seems to be what Murakami tries to do with his opening prologue, which is actually very good. The narrator awakes from a nap, and a man without a face is sitting across from him. He’s been here before, and he’s back because the narrator has been unable to draw his portrait. The narrator struggles and again fails. The man disappears with a puff of smoke, promising to return. It feels like this is a good metaphor for a tortured artist trying forever and ever to achieve some intangible, unobtainable goal with their art.

If only that had anything to do with the rest of the book! There are bits and pieces here and there that readers might be able to use to come to some sort of conclusion along those lines, but Murakami is asking readers to do a lot of the work for him.

At any rate, it feels good to have it under my belt, and I’m glad to have had another 1,048 pages of language practice. I read an average of 45.6 pages/day, which is 10 below my pace for 1Q84. This is a little surprising. I wonder if I’ve lost focus, have more going on these days, or if the book was just bad.

やれやれ. (Only one instance of this word in the entire book!) I hope that you all enjoyed following along here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Until next time! (Which I guess will be in 2024 or 2025 if we’re going by long books or 2021 if we’re going by short books.)

Playlist for Haruki Murakami’s Kishidanchō goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

I’m a little late to this game, but I’ve put together a playlist of all the music Haruki Murakami has had his characters listen to or refer to in his recent novel Kishidanchō goroshi (騎士団長殺し, Killing Commendatore). I’ll keep adding to it as I go. I’m currently 15 chapters and 257 pages deep. Only 750 more to go. :/

Oh, and I forgot to include a link to my Japan Times tease for the book in my previous post. Check it out.

I forecasted the wrong words! I wish I had included 惹く/惹かれる because they’ve been used a million times, as in 1Q84. As has 具わっている. I mention these in my review of the book at Neojaponisme. There’s even a bit of 抽斗. Just had the first やれやれ. I’m still convinced that 胡散臭い may make an appearance. We shall see.