66. THE TALE OF GENJI, BY MURASAKI SHIKIBU
Recommended to me by Michele Ruedin, on Goodreads, although she did tell me she hadn’t read it herself.
This is supposed to be the first “true” or “modern” novel in existence. I’m not sure what “true” or “modern” are supposed to mean in this context, but I gather it is a very old and historically important novel. That has to be taken in account when reading this book.
I tried not to do a lot of research on this book, because I didn’t want this review to be a copy of some other text I might read, so all I learned about it is that it was written by a Japanese lady while she was in the empress’s court (and that not much else is known about it, anyway). I got the distinct impression that it was written in episodes. Maybe she started the story one day, and the other ladies were pleased, so eventually they asked her to continue and she did. There isn’t a real plot or even much of a connecting thread between the chapters. It even ends kind of abruptly, as if she could have continued on. I can imagine a woman telling this story to a captive audience of women, and all of them interjecting, smiling knowingly, and even guffawing, slumber-party-style, during this telling. That image is so enchanting I’m half in love with it.
The text is quite dated, I’m afraid. And it depends heavily on extensive knowledge of Japanese costumes, culture, and history during the period. I have some, probably more than the average person, but I have to admit I was often baffled as to motivations and happenings.
All in all, if you have a very specific interest in Japanese history, or the history of literature, this book would be essential. If you don’t, however, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Up next: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood