When a thirty-something portrait painter is abandoned by his wife, he secludes himself in the mountain home of a world famous artist. One day, the young painter hears a noise from the attic, and upon investigation, he discovers a previously unseen painting. By unearthing this hidden work of art, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances; and to close it, he must undertake a perilous journey into a netherworld that only Haruki Murakami could conjure.
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|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 12, 1949
Place of Birth:Kyoto, Japan
Education:Waseda University, 1973
Read an Excerpt
Today when I awoke from a nap the faceless man was there before me. He was seated on the chair across from the sofa I’d been sleeping on, staring straight at me with a pair of imaginary eyes in a face that wasn’t.
The man was tall, and he was dressed the same as when I had seen him last. His face-that-wasn’t-a-face was half hidden by a wide-brimmed black hat, and he had on a long, equally dark coat.
“I came here so you could draw my portrait,” the faceless man said, after he’d made sure I was fully awake. His voice was low, toneless, flat. “You promised you would. You remember?”
“Yes, I remember. But I couldn’t draw it then because I didn’t have any paper,” I said. My voice, too, was toneless and flat. “So to make up for it I gave you a little penguin charm.”
“Yes, I brought it with me,” he said, and held out his right hand. In his hand—which was extremely long—he held a small plastic penguin, the kind you often see attached to a cell phone strap as a good-luck charm. He dropped it on top of the glass coffee table, where it landed with a small clunk.
“I’m returning this. You probably need it. This little penguin will be the charm that should protect those you love. In exchange, I want you to draw my portrait.”
I was perplexed. “I get it, but I’ve never drawn a portrait of a person without a face.”
My throat was parched.
“From what I hear, you’re an outstanding portrait artist. And there’s a first time for everything,” the faceless man said. And then he laughed. At least, I think he did. That laugh-like voice was like the empty sound of wind blowing up from deep inside a cavern.
He took off the hat that hid half of his face. Where the face should have been, there was nothing, just the slow whirl of a fog.
I stood up and retrieved a sketchbook and a soft pencil from my studio. I sat back down on the sofa, ready to draw a portrait of the man with no face. But I had no idea where to begin, or how to get started. There was only a void, and how are you supposed to give form to something that does not exist? And the milky fog that surrounded the void was continually changing shape.
“You’d better hurry,” the faceless man said. “I can’t stay here forlong.”
My heart was beating dully inside my chest. I didn’t have much time. I had to hurry. But my fingers holding the pencil just hung there in midair, immobilized. It was as though everything from my wrist down into my hand were numb. There were several people I had to protect, and all I was able to do was draw pictures. Even so, there was no way I could draw him. I stared at the whirling fog. “I’m sorry, but your time’s up,” the man without a face said a little while later. From his faceless mouth, he let out a deep breath, like pale fog hovering over a river.
“Please wait. If you give me just a little more time—”
The man put his black hat back on, once again hiding half of his face.“One day I’ll visit you again. Maybe by then you’ll be able to draw me. Until then, I’ll keep this penguin charm.”
Then he vanished. Like a mist suddenly blown away by a freshening breeze, he vanished into thin air. All that remained was the unoccupied chair and the glass table. The penguin charm was gone from the tabletop.
It all seemed like a short dream. But I knew very well that it wasn’t. If this was a dream, then the world I’m living in itself must all be a dream.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to draw a portrait of nothingness. Just like another artist was able to complete a painting titled Killing Commendatore. But to do so I would need time to get to that point. I would have to have time on my side.
Reading Group Guide
1. As a painter, the narrator might be expected to have an increased sense of awareness and perceptivity. Yet more than once in the book it’s implied that he himself is more the subject of his portraits than the subjects are. Keeping in mind the fantastical element of the Commendatore coming to life, who would you say has the most control in this novel: the subject, the artist, or the audience (the one who owns the work)? Contrast the agency of the Commendatore (an “Idea”) with the Man in the White Subaru Forester and Mariye (whose painting goes unfinished).
2. Discuss the role of art in the novel—not just painting but also music, such as opera, jazz, and Bruce Springsteen. Consider what the Commendatore says of Thelonius Monk: “What is important is not creating something out of nothing. What my friends need to do is discover the right thing from what is already there” (260). What does painting Mariye help each of them discover about something “already there”?
3. The narrator admits that he “prioritized the ego of the artist—myself—over you, the subject” in his painting of Menshiki (214). To his surprise, Menshiki still loves the painting. What does this tell you about Menshiki’s self-awareness and interdependence on others? How do his behaviors support this idea?
4. Menshiki’s choice to live across the water from his daughter alludes to The Great Gatsby—although this relationship is familial rather than romantic love. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, in what other ways is that novel echoed in Killing Commendatore? In what ways are the two books similar and different?
5. Komi’s death had a profound impact on the narrator. How has losing her shaped him as a person? What is Komi’s role in the novel? What are some of the connections between Komi and the other women in the narrator’s life—Yuzu, Mariye, his girlfriend, and Muro? What does each of them possess that attracts him to them, including any artistic appeal? What is suggested by the way he responds to losing (or almost losing) them?
6. Discuss Masahiko’s revelation that people’s faces—and perhaps personalities—are not symmetrical. How does this inform the way that portraits are made in the book and the role of Long Face?
7. What is Tomohiko Amada’s role in the novel? Why is the narrator so determined to learn about Amada’s secret past? What does he discover?
8. What other kinds of asymmetries appear in the novel? Consider the juxtaposition of real and fantastical elements in addition to (mis)matches in people, time, and place.
9. Consider the role of obsession in the book. Which characters are more readily drawn into obsessive states of mind? What do they obsess about? How do they act on these feelings? For example, compare the narrator’s obsession with the pit in the woods (and painting it) with Menshiki’s obsession with Mariye.
10. Why does the narrator need to stab the Commendatore? Is their relationship just an expression of the notion that art and life reflect each other, or is it something more complicated? What kind of agency does he gain from doing so?
11. Consider the narrator’s journey along the Path of Metaphor. What does he experience along the way? Why does he embark on this quest and how does it change him?
12. The scene describing Mariye’s hiding in Menhiki’s house hands over some of the storytelling agency to her—the only time the narrator, and his mind, isn’t fully in control of the story. What does this slip into Mariye’s perspective indicate about her relationship with the narrator? Consider how closely he relates her to his younger sister and the need to protect her even from Menshiki himself.
13. Is the novel a love story? How might it meet the traditional definition of “love story,” and how does it complicate the notion of love?
14. Why does the narrator get back together with his wife? Do you believe that he could really be Muro’s father? Why or why not?
15. How does the narrator come to realize the boundaries of his own knowledge vis-à-vis Mariye’s portrait and his wife’s child? In his interpretation, is not knowing a fault or a benefit?
16. Describe the nature of reality in this novel. Where do the boundaries fall between dream and waking states, conscious and unconscious actions, and truth versus fantasy? Did the time you spent in the world of this book have an impact on your worldview once you finished?
17. Have you read any other books by Murakami? How were they similar to this novel? How were they different? Are there common themes that tie them together?