If I close my eyes tight, what shall I see? If I shut out all the noises I can sense, what shall I hear? If I shun the world completely, what shall I feel? A dark nothingness? Or a blinding muddle of overlapping images? Heartbeats of silence, may be? Or forewarnings of myriad nature? Forgotten memories, perhaps? Or Unforeseen happenstances?
The options are many but the answers, scare. And a protagonist embroiled in a similar dilemma propels this part real, part supernatural tale of phantasmagorical dimensions.
Murakami’s 36-years old hero bears all the usual hallmarks of his creator’s heroes – a loser in love, an average worker, a music aficionado, an explorer of the unconventional, a commoner, a misfit, an outcast. Adding to this rather familiar image is the angle of art; our hero is a portrait painter and is at a stage of life where he is striving to graduate to a more experimental and freer form of it even though his current credentials are praiseworthy. But left to his own devices in an isolated mountain house in remote Japan, when he accidentally uncovers a hidden painting in the attic, painted by his landlord (the great artist Tomohiko Amada), he unknowingly sets in motion a chain of events which he must counter first hand and bring to a logical conclusion. The painting, of course, is the eponymous ‘Killing Commendatore’.
In his signature style, Murakami’s flight from the real to the surreal and back, and forth, and back left me enthralled. From the bell whose eerie jingling punctured the night stillness for exactly 45 minutes to the crystallization of an idea into a walking-talking person, from the precocious girl who would match the hero toe-to-toe in comprehending the hidden layers of a vocal painting to the cryptic idiosyncrasies of his impeccably dressed but asocial neighbour, from the disappearance of things from the real world to their timely apparitions in the surreal world, the story turned into an exhilarating ride where beliefs were as quickly suspended as their twins were embraced. But even as he held me captive in this roller coaster wheel of happenstances, he consciously waved cards on family, friendship, art, success, loneliness, values and life, begging me to pay attention to their subtle but all-encompassing impact.
Reading Murakami is never a straight-forward process and as a fan, I roll in glee at the opportunity of getting enmeshed in his web. However, since his books, at the core level, are mostly about human frailties and the attempts to comprehend them, they leave me in a fertile place where the guiding light reveals as much as it hides. And these open ends make for a fascinating tête-à-tête with self. ‘Killing Commendatore’ didn’t disappoint at all in this regard. And if the resemblance to a certain Scott Fitzgerald novel planted some seeds of anticipation in me early on, they were dismissed before long.
And while it came tantalizingly close to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in its approach and length, the master turned his latest trick into a clear winner by infusing the very best of his diverse characters. The delicious bites on the process of creating art, the psychological undercurrents of a modern-day teen, the pernicious scars of war and their refusal to fade, they all added to the hypnotic relevance of this tome, and which I am glad I read. Because every creation is a repayment to the loan of time and when made the right way, strengthens our worthiness in the world we live in and shall eventually leave behind.