Review: Lady Murasaki’s “The Tale of Genji”
One that ticks the boxes of KAM’s List and the Global Women of Colour Challenge, reputedly the world’s first novel, written by a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese Imperial Court in the 9th or 10th century. Lady Murasaki (a pen name) wrote this ten-volume work – the first is plenty for me – with the glorious, beautiful, poetic, musical Prince Genji as the hero. Characters are highly confusing and the plot is desperately slim, focussing only on late-adolescent Genji’s romantic trysts with everyone from his father the Emperor’s wife to an elderly waiting maid to slum dwelling dream lovers to ten-year-old girls he kidnaps so they can marry when she’s old enough. U-huh. Anyhoo, the reason this book was interesting was the rites and rituals and social performances which were standard court fare in mediaeval Japan. Most fascinating was the recital and writing of poems – couplets, acrostics – as a prime means of communication, either when flirting with a potential lover (that’s most of the time, if this novel’s anything to go by), and the evaluation of people’s worth according to the calibre of their handwriting and the wit of their poetry. Two details I just loved. Has its historic value, and isn’t all terribly written, Genji is just a shallow twat and 189pp of his romances is a bit thin.
Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading: Multifarious mildly curious snippets, generally small because it was quite dense and densely printed = hard to read
Where it went: KAM
Reminds me of/that: So many other cultures and alternatives for the social uses of poetry
Who I’d recommend it to: Antique cultures buffs
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley