1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Monday, September 03, 2007

3. Murasaki Shikibu - The Tale Of Genji (源氏物語 - Genji Monogatari ) (early 11th century)


Francisco: Well that was a fun read... sorry for the delay but if you try to read it and then pass it on to someone else to read it it will take some time. This isn't the most reader friendly book in the world, there is a huge amount of problems with it. Firstly in 11th century Japan it was bad form to address people by their names, so they were addressed by their titles. All very fine and dandy if the work was set in a limited amount of time and had a limited amount of characters. This book however charts the life of Genji since a child to his death and beyond, meaning it has dozens of characters all of which keep changing title because they are promoted, demoted or whatever. The book soon, about around page 300 becomes near impossible to follow without keeping a very complex chart of all the character who they are related to and how many times they have changed name throughout the book. It's basically insane.

So that was my major gripe with it, that and feeling that by page 800 I was just reading because I had to. I wasn't understanding what the hell was happening or who the hell was talking or doing anything.
And then there's the characters, Genji, the hero is a good for nothing spoilt boy rapist. He does nothing in the whole book except play music, fuck loads whether the women are willing or not (except he's so great they are then happy they were raped). The closest comparison I can make in terms of western society is to those Chekov plays where everyone is bored aristocracy doing nothing and looking out the window thinking how exciting life must be in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Except in Genji there is no internal monologue or deep existential problems everyone is as superficial as a cardboard cut-out.

This is not to say that the book isn't interesting, in fact it is fascinating because the Heian society is completely Alien, it is like something out of this world. And for that simple reason it is a book worth reading at least until chapter 12 or something and then put away forever.

Vanda: Erm, yeah. I'm sorry, I couldn't finish this. It's so long, and long winded, and dull, and dull, and dull.. I must admit to perhaps not having the necessary sacrificial spirit to read this book for the List's sake, as the husband up there did. It's the longest book where nothing ever actually happens, except romantic conquests, and some sex, and aristocrats sending poems to each other. That actually makes it sound more exciting than it actually is. I know, perhaps I'm being shallow, I'm sorry. I'll do better on the next one.

Final Grade

Francisco: 5/10
Vanda: n/a


From Wikipedia:
The Genji is an important fictional work of Japanese literature and numerous modern authors have cited it as inspiration. It is noted for its internal consistency, psychological depiction, and characterization. The novelist Yasunari Kawabata said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "The Tale of Genji in particular is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature. Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it." The Genji is also often referred to as "the first novel", though there is considerable debate over this — some of the debate involving whether Genji can even be considered a "novel". Some consider the psychological insight, complexity, and unity of the work to qualify it for "novel" status while simultaneously disqualifying earlier works. Others see these arguments as subjective and unconvincing. Related claims, perhaps in an attempt to sidestep these debates, are that Genji is the "first psychological novel", "the first novel still considered to be a classic", or other more qualified terms. It is, however, difficult to claim that it is the world's first novel without denying the claims of the Greek novel (for example, Daphnis and Chloe, the Aethiopica, etc.) (The debate exists in Japanese as well, with comparison between the terms monogatari -- "tale" -- and shosetsu -- "novel".)

Heian people doing Heian things with REAL Heian music... they were big on guitars and sax:


  • At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why aren't you writing book reviews? And why don't you ever leave me a friendly message on my site?

    I have a comment board, I like to get comments like you do.



  • At 12:05 PM, Blogger Francisco Silva said…

    WEll because it is two people doing the books, so when I finish them I pass them to my wife, who then has to read them. Genji was 1000 pages long, the next one on the list is 1500 pages, which I have just finished and will post soon, the one I am reading now is 2000 pages long... so it will take a while.

    Sorry about not commenting, I'll try to be better about it :)

  • At 8:08 PM, Blogger de.puta.madre said…

    Boa leitura!

    Se estás em UK Londres vai ver por mim as exposições do Ged Quinn.


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