I don’t think I have read any other Murakami, so this – ‘Killing Commendatore’ – would be interesting. It certainly was. As you get into the book the first thing that strikes you is that Murakami is a beautiful writer, a craftsman of the first order. No two ways about it the prose sparkles. And those critics who say that he is a master story teller ‘exhilarating’, ‘bewitching’, are right. He is. However, what I can’t agree is that the story Murakami tells in this novel is plausible or satisfactory. The Commendatore a two-feet tall gremlin? Paintings as portals to ‘the other world’? Really. Others might find this an esoteric mix between the domestic and the fantastic. I just found it plain silly. The novel is about a dissatisfied painter whose wife has just left him, who is holed up in a mountain retreat that is the old home of a famous painter with a murky past. His relationships with those around him, are described in infinite detail, which never grates, including that with a wealthy neighbour who built his house so that he could spy on a young girl he believes may be his daughter. It is all the background to a gripping story. But little folk? Come on. Surely you are better than that Murakami. A long read – very pleasurable, but ultimately very unsatisfactory. Suspend my disbelief? See the whole thing as a metaphor? I don’t think so.
‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’ is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a 14 year old girl who is imprisoned in the hell that was Auschwitz. When the Jewish leader in the campasks Dita to take charge of the 8 precious books that are all that keep the rotting corpses in touch with civilisation she agrees at enormous risk to herself. If found with the books she will undoubtedly be shot, or worse. The story has many interesting aspects including the ‘extended library’ whereby some people knew other books so well they could teach others about them in the underground school. Obviously the horror of the camp is the background to all this, but the only thing I found slightly irritating was that through most of the book this seems to be a little sanitised. You couldn’t get the full horror of the unspeakable conditions. The infamous Mengele is there to add a further layer of evil. An important addition to the literature.