The narrator of the Murakami novel is relatively passive. He reacts to things but is not the main driver of events. Menshiki is the instigator of most of the action, having the nameless narrator paint his portrait and then the portrait of the girl who may or may not be Menshiki's daughter.
The common wisdom is that a protagonist should want something, and take action to achieve it, and then deal with the obstacles that arise. Here we don't know what he really wants. His wife has left him, and he has affairs with some women, but they are not what he wants, really. He perhaps wants to forge his own artistic style, rather than being a painter of commissioned portraits, but to do so accepts Menshiki's commissions. It is Menshiki's money that permits everything to happen.
A passive protagonist can work, but it is much more difficult to pull off. It doesn't feel satisfying, so something else must compensate. Verbal descriptions of someone painting are not wholly satisfying either. There is something half-hearted about the whole novel. as though the author didn't know what he wanted to do in writing it.
"There is something half-hearted about the whole novel. as though the author didn't know what he wanted to do in writing it."
This relates to something I said in response to an earlier post. I think this judgment (which I share) is a feature, not a bug, of Murakami's style. It's also probably somewhat true (i.e., he probably didn't quite know what he wanted to do) but I sometimes think that leaving this effect in is deliberate. It's a trait of the "implied author" not Murakami himself (even, like I say, if it also happens to be true of him). Part of the (or at least my) enjoyment of reading his novels is the obvious fictionality of his universe. It's being made up as we go along. It really doesn't have a point that you're being set up to get, and that fact is apparent early on. (Although it has also just become what I expect of his work.)
Even What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has this underlying sense of the author's obliviousness to his own point. (Not so much an unreliable narrator as an insouciant author.) Killing Commendatore is not his best book. I'm not sure which one is. (I really liked The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.) And maybe I'm just making excuses for it because my copy was a gift from my children and I'm sentimental about the time I spent reading it. But I just wanted to say that the half-heartedness of Murakami's writing is one of the things that I've come to enjoy about it and I still haven't decided whether it's actually a sign of his greatness.
This is true. Those are constant features of his work, the insouciance and improvisational feel, and part of what I like in some of his work. I haven't read the running book. Kafka on the Shore is my favorite, I think.
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