Between absence and presence

A reading of Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

Jean_Siméon_Chardin_-_Draughtsman_-_WGA04754

 

This is Mr Murakami’s latest work, published in Japan in 2017, and translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen (I guess: a tour de force). First of all, I must say that, in my view, this is Mr Murakami’s most accomplished work thus far, a fascinating, troubling and at time challenging novel. To be sure, long haul readers will find there a familiar atmosphere, but also the unknown. I will not spoil anything, but mention some ideas and metaphors.

There is a young artist, a portrait painter, and his beautiful, estranged wife. There is a, now dead, beloved little sister. There is  a lone timber house, high up in the mountains, which belongs to a famous old painter. There is an owl in the attic. Across the valley, there is a big, strange house, with a stranger owner.

The young artist teaches drawing at a local school. He lives on his own, in the timber house, with the owl in the attic, visits the attic, walks in the woods. Behind a little shrine he discovers a pit, the pit in the woods. There is the start of the quest, with a surprising painting, and a bell.

There is Vienna, at the time of the Anschluss, there is the war in China, but this is the past, with deep consequences for the present. The old painter is famous for his classical formal Japanese paintings, but this one painting…

The novel oscillates between dream and an even more unfathomable reality. There is a lovely, pubescent young girl, her beautiful aunt, and two portraits, or is it three?

Once started this, as with all of Mr Murakami’s work, the book becomes desperately addictive: one dreads the prospect of finishing the book.

Yet the quest has to be completed, through sacrifice and ordeal.

I must add a warning: if readers wish to cross the river, between absence and presence, they must pay the ferryman. So, have your penguin ready!

That’s about the size of it.

Image: der Zeichner (the young draughtsman) by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

Rooted #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

x-ray-207

 

“We have been here before today, haven’t we?” The question was directed to me, yet I wondered who the “we” included. I guessed perhaps not me, or not just me. For I never was here, on my own or alone with her, but it might have been in a group, in the days “we” were travelling as a bunch of “tree-huggers”, as my son put it once.

Indeed I love trees, and cannot conceive life without them nearby. Trees are sensitive beings, they have their language, their signs, they love, suffer, and die, or rather they are killed. Like us.

I could not recall having been here with the lady, but it did not seem to bother her anyway. We talked about the strange way those trees seem to want to move higher, above the ground, to reach up, maybe for something we could not see. Their roots appear to be gliding, a little off the soil, still keeping contact, as if preparing to float. I had  a vision of this part of the forest, resting on clouds, slowly moving, pushed by the wind…

“That would be something to see!” My companion must have had similar thoughts. Tolkien had written about slow moving trees. I looked again at the intricate pattern of roots, then at the magnificent crown of the trees.

We looked at each other, there was still time to explore deeper into those woods. I knew we were close to where fairies, and maybe even ancient dwarves, lived.

 

Monochrome #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

timbered-building

 

“This is where he lives, I am sure of that…” she said in a low voice as they observed the silent house from afar. The front grass was freshly cut, and although it was already dusk, no light was to be seen through the windows.

“There are lots of them there, in the deep cellars, but we won’t see any until it is much darker.” They looked at the sky and the dark clouds accumulating above the property.

“How old do you think this place is?” he asked finally. Their presence was the outcome of a long search. The origin of the house, the people who had built it, how it was finally acquired by the Count, the whole history was shrouded in mystery.

“It goes back at least to Tudor times,” she replied, “although there is disagreement about the exact dates. The Count’s ancestors had something to do with silver mines in South America, and we know that today he is rumoured to be the CEO of a secretive private equity firm…”

“Now is the time. Whoever commissioned us must have good reasons. They knew this sort of operation don’t come cheap.” They smiled.

Calmly, methodically, they pulled out the Uzis from their sheaves, loaded the guns and undid the security, then they started walking toward the building. Their instructions were simple: there had to be no survivors.

Bright #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

bright

 

Often we walked in those woods, you and me, when the bluebells shone, and the sky reminded us that Easter was close by. Today, the air is clear, the ground soft to our feet, as it was then.

“What is the difference?” we could ask. But we don’t. We both know. Our bodies have no shadows, we meet no-one, or rather, no-one meets us. We are invisible, though we still love these woods, the valley below, the old Roman villa nearby, the memories of our lives.

We hear voices too, far, far away: are they people we once knew? Or are they the dreams  of ancient ghosts, like us?

Toteninsel

Inspired by an evening, roaming through the second floor of the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin

 

DSC_0517

In the morning I went to the gym and trained as usual, carefully.  I felt relaxed, the dizziness was gone. Back home, the most important person had gone to her own class. We would meet later, and I had time to prepare breakfast. First I sorted the gym clothes, making sure the wet towel and T-shirt were hung out to dry. The air was still cold but the sun was shining. The clear new bright sun of February. I closed the door of the balcony. Suddenly the dizziness had come back, like a small cloud out of nowhere. I laid out the breakfast table, poured a cup of coffee. The pain in my left arm was now sharper. I was used to it. The price for keeping fit was to be in permanent pain, or so I had told myself, long ago. I sat down, breathed deeply. The apartment was silent, I could only hear the deep growl of traffic, down on the avenue, and the crows exchanging gossips, up there on the roof. I had time. The most important person would not be back for another hour. I decided to write a short note: “Feeling a little tired, if I am asleep when you come back, just wake me up, softly! Xx”

I decided to lie down on the sofa, pulled the light blanket over the pain, smiling. The crows had gone silent. The traffic noise seemed to recede. The pain had moved from the arm to somewhere  between the shoulder and the middle of the chest. All at once it grew even sharper. There was no surprise, I had long expected this: not a question of if, merely when. My vision had gone vague, all sounds had receded. I felt a great calm, just the pain, invasive, and I knew I was going. Soon it was dark. A last thought was how simple this was.

The separation came later. How much time had gone by then, I could not even imagine. The pain had gone, only remained utter lightness. The light was dimmed. The room and the surface where I had rested were gone. Moving felt easy. Was it really moving? Exploring without motion, rather. Was this still me? These questions felt unimportant. I sensed, rather than looked, around. There was a shore, an expanse of water. No sound.

Then I saw him. I knew immediately who he was, although he looked much younger than I had expected. Charon’s eyes betrayed his apparent youthfulness. He was deaf, but his benevolent words came clear to my mind. “I was expecting you earlier, and I am pleased to see you.” Then a little later – but what did that mean now? – “Take place when you are ready, there is plenty of time.”

I stood at the front of the boat, exactly as in the painting. Standing, I was aware of the long white robe, of the hood. I felt somehow very dignified, at peace. Charon sat at the back, his muscular arms in evidence under the medieval shirt. Without moving I could see his calm face, the kindness of his eyes, and yet the absence of smile. The boat was now moving effortlessly, or rather gliding on the surface of the water. I could see the rudders cutting through in silence. The light was now brighter, under a cloudless but rather dark sky. I had the feeling we were immobile and that it was  the water that was flowing under our boat. 

Then the island was there, at first a small icon, and then the cypresses came into view. The sight of them was a sheer pleasure, a feeling of fulfilment. The dark green contrasted with the pale face of the high walls and rocks at the water edge. A faint mist surrounded the vision. “We have arrived,” said Charon without a word, “don’t worry about your luggage, it will be taken care of.” I only then notice the ancient coffer at my feet. I looked up, saw the small windows on the face of the cliff. Scents: the trees, sea water, salt in the air. I knew there was a cell for me, somewhere deep in the immensity of the island. Lightheaded I turned to the sea: Charon and his boat had gone. Small waves were crushing on the narrow shore. Did I hear sea birds in the sky?

“Wake up lazy bones!” said the most important person, her crystal laugh resonating in the room. The crows were back, and so was the traffic. Why did those legs feel so heavy?

Photo: Arnold Böcklin, die Toteninsel, Alte Nationalgalerie

Die Toteninsel, in Deutsche Wikipedia

Arnold Böcklin, Artikel in Deutsche Wikipedia

Das Gästebuch ist noch immer ein beliebter Weg für Museumsbesucher, sich selbst zu Ausstellungen oder Werken zu äußern.”

Timeless #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

 

derbyshire-lambs-hawk-kestrel-crone-stone-tideswell-lillingstone-025

 

We stood silent, and felt the temperature rise a little, as morning light reflected on the monolith. We moved a little closer, you held my hand tighter. Was that a shimmer on the surface of the rock?

“It’s alive, and it has sensed us”, you said very low. “It knows we are here, perhaps even who we are.” The ground was still frozen, except for a circle around the stone. “See the markings: it’s a sentinel…”

More stones were buried deep, all over the moor. Was this an ancient ritual site, or the remnants of an even older battlefield? If this was a sentinel, was it still signalling to anyone? And who were they?

Was it still talking to its masters? And if it were alive, then… was it alone?

 

 

New #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

new-day

 

Overwhelmed by sorrow, he called for his guardian angel. She came at once, and took him to the cliff to watch the sunset, just the two of them. All at once calmed, reassured, he looked up to her smiling face: then she said: “I know, you feel lonely, but in truth you are lucky, you had more love than most mortals, and maybe you did not always deserve it…”

“Now is time for you to give grace, for your life, for the children you were given, for this sunrise… And for me to come to you, as I saw your distress.”

He felt on his knees, but she insisted he stood, side by side with her, and he felt her searching his mind, destroying the demons and the false hopes.

“Of course you will die, when your time comes. For now, look at the star rising, feel the warmth, feel my hand on your shoulder, and don’t wallow in self-pity. I will come back when it is your turn…”

He felt her lips on his, her presence, and then she was gone. Alone he watched the dawn of a new day.

Fragrant #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

rose-garden

 

“Where,” she thought, “where shall I meet you, where for our next date, my dear, so dear love?”

There is no light, darkness reigns, but she knows a place, deep in her memories, the rose garden, in late Spring, the fragrance of the blooms, the humming of the bees. She remembers, she can evoke the place, the time, his face. She sees the colours, feels the warm air on her skin.

She has to be strong, retrace her steps, and his. The monsters are building hell on earth, but she knows where Paradise lies, deep, deep in her heart. Untouchable, safe, as he will be, when they meet again, in the rose garden.