Murakami's first-person narrator for Killing Commendatore never discloses his name (something that didn't actually occur to me until I was close to the end of the novel). The narrator is a portrait artist whose wife unexpectedly asks him for a divorce, sharing that she has been seeing another man. Portrait Artist (calling him that for convenience) leaves the apartment he shared with his wife, embarks on a journey, and ends up living in the remote mountain home of a well-known artist--the father of an old art-school friend. The father, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, has been moved to a nursing home. For a nominal rent, Portrait Artist cares for the home, focuses on his art, and does some teaching at a community center.
Portrait Artist discovers in the attic a remarkable painting called "Killing Commendatore," which depicts in Japanese style a version of a famous assassination scene in Mozart's "Don Giovanni." Portrait Artist brings the painting into the studio and becomes mesmerized by it. His friend's father, as a young man, had studied in Austria, but mysterious events over there during the Second World War resulted in his being returned to Japan, where he abruptly changed from painting in a European style to a Japanese style.
Although he has quit doing traditional portraits through an agency, he accepts a commission by a wealthy neighbor who gives him the direction to paint the portrait in any style he chooses. The shared experience that produces the portrait leads to a friendship between the artist and his subject, ultimately leading Portrait Artist to accept his neighbor's request to paint the portrait of another neighbor, a 13-year-old girl, Marie. The neighbor who requests the portrait may have a connection to the girl--but I won't spoil that.
Bringing the painting "Killing Commendatore" down from the attic--where its creator had ostensibly hidden it with the intention of preventing anyone from seeing it--seemingly sets into motion certain fantastical events, calling forth "ideas" and "metaphors" that are personified, and making possible/necessary a crossing into an alternate world.
This is one of those books I can't quite assign a star rating to. There were aspects of this book that I loved: Its depiction of an artist's mind, the narrator's visual memory, the power of art to capture elements that go beyond surface appearance. There were aspects that I found troubling, too. I've seen discussions where people note that Murakami seems obsessed with breasts and ears. The breast obsession definitely comes through in this book (including the narrator sharing that his sister, who died at age 12, had very small breasts, as does the 13-year-old Marie, in contrast with her aunt, who has large shapely ones--while his wife also has small ones). He also gives his weirdly detailed descriptions of women's ears in a couple of instances.
There is also a scene that involves a sexual dream where the narrator basically rapes his sleeping estranged wife--he himself identifies it this way when he thinks about the dream, noting that if she's asleep, she's not consenting. On the one hand, he was dreaming, but on the other--the dream might not have been an ordinary dream, so possible unfortunate implications.
In addition, although the book had me hooked most of the time, there were also segments where the narrative dragged, and I actually found myself doing "wrap it up" gestures with my hands (I listened to the audio version).
In sum, I am glad I experienced this novel. I think Murakami's fans will, on the balance, appreciate the story, though possibly with misgivings.