So I finally finished The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and I would just like you to all know that I HATED it. I definitely would not give it a place in my top 10 greatest novels of all time. I don't care if it is an 11th Century novel that revolutionized the genre by being the first novel to include feelings, and thoughts. It's horrible.
1)It has no point. The book basically follows Prince Genji throughout the course of his life and his many loves. The journey through these many loves doesn't seem to be sharing any great truth about life (well except for the fact that life is fleeting...or evanascent as the book liked to say over and over again). For me that wasn't enough of a moral or a pretext to get through all Genji's carousing and whoring around.
2) It is a chauvanistic story which includes, rape, molestation of children, multiple wives and a series of men "having their way" with women. For those of you who don't know, part of my job is to educate youth about the dangers of sexual exploitation. This book is just filled with men taking advantage of women. Genji brings in a young child because he reminds him of his fathers concubine who he once had an affair with and basically raises her until she is maaaybe 14 and forces her to become his lover. This is what he says of the situation "A man can shape and mold her as he wishes and becomes fonder of her all the while"
And here is another quote when he rapes one of his many loves. "He would make his way past the most unblinking of gatekeepers and hav ehis way with her"
And lastly of another tryst: "self loathing was not enough to overcome temptation"
3) Genji is a whining snivelling idiot who creates his own issues and then complains when they cause him trouble. For instance:
"It seemed that his life must go on being complicated" (This is only because his whoring around gets him trouble with the court, his many ladies and his family.
"He sighed, almost wishing it were not the case that each of his ladies had something to recommend her. It made for a most complicated life"
"All my life I have made trouble for myself which I could have avoided"
That all being said there are a few good points to the novel.
1)As a study in 11th century Japan it is fascinating. I loved how men and women spoke to each other in poetry mostly just hinting at their meaning. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Like snows that wait for their comrades to return" (how cute is that??!!)
"Go we late or soon more frail our lives than dewdrops hanging in the morning light"
"startled from my dream by a wandering gusyt of teh mountain gale. I heard the waterfall and at the beauty of its music wept"
2)The description of the changing seasons and flowers made me really want to see (and smell Japan). The talk of cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and wisteria left me thinking that it must be a very beautiful place. This left me particularly sad in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami.
"A willow trailed its branches in a deepening green and the cherry blossoms were rich and sensuous"
3) The novel had some interesting things to say about relationships . I loved this quote:
"we all have our strong points-or in any event I have never myself seen anyone with none at all. Yet when you are looking for someone to fill your whole life there are not many who seem right"
"it is in general the unexplored that attracts us, and Genji tended to fall most deeply in love with those who gave him least encouragement".
I definitely identify with that one. I have always tended to be interested in people who have no interest in me.
4)The book also talks about some Buddhist tradtions that I found very interesting. In 11th century Japan at least the characters all felt at the end of their lives that they needed to become nuns or monks and spend the last few years of their lives preparing for the afterlife in the hope that they might find a place in the afterworld. As a Christian who doesn't have to work for my salvation I found the thought very sad that they needed to strive so hard for the next life.
"if you join the competition for salvation which we see all around us"
"even in writ which the Buddha drew from his nobel heart are devices for pointing obliquely at the truth...if one takes a generous view, then nothing is empty and useless"
That quote I actually like!
Okay, that's all. I am done. I don't want to spend another second on this horrible book!!! The next novel I am reading is Emma. I have never wanted to read Jane Austen, mostly because I am stubborn and like to be counter culture, but I am actually excited to see what all of the fuss is about. This book, is much smaller and I should be done in 2-3 weeks no problem.