Saturday, July 04, 2009

Book: The Fox Woman

So beautiful. So full of longing. So sad. Well, not really sad. But kind of. Off and on sad. But beautiful all throughout.

This was difficult for me to read, even though it was so lovely. Written as if on the delicately colored scraps of paper the characters write poetry upon, the words falling like cherry blossom petals. So full of longing, melancholy... mists and magic.

So why was this so difficult for me to read? I think that I knew that little Kitsune's tale would be hard to bear, for her and for me, even through the beauty.

Set in mystical Old Japan, this is a story of love and longing and magic. Kitsune is a little fox girl. She lives with her family in a snug fox den under an abandoned pavilion. Until one day, the people come back. And Kitsune's life -- and of those all around her -- is changed irrevocably. She falls in love with the master of the house. His wife, the perfect Shikujo, fears foxes above all else. She has her reasons. And now she has another.

As Nymeth mentioned in her lovely review, this story is about the roles of men and women, and how a woman's life is often about waiting, longing, watching and wondering. And a man's life? Is the opposite... and also similar. Nothing is as straightforward as we'd sometimes like to believe.

But we all know that already, don't we?

I feel torn about this review, because (speaking of not being straightforward) as much as I loved the writing, loved the story, and felt the heart-pain of all the characters... I think that I was just feeling a little too raw (so tired!) and it hurt my heart, all the pain of each person (and foxes). Maybe it's because I just read Wesley The Owl and cried over the ending... I didn't want to read about more sad little animals. Kitsune broke my heart, even though her story may not have an unhappy ending... (that's the beauty of how this book ends)

So. Did I like it, or didn't I? I did like it. I liked it a lot. I loved the descriptions of Old Japan. I loved the colors of the robes, the delicate poetry-papers... the lives of the foxes and after the magic. I loved all of that. I think it was more my state of mind -- very tired, very vulnerable -- I was a little too into the story. I also happen to adore foxes and I was terrified the whole time that something bad would happen to one of them. I couldn't stand the tension when Kitsune, as a little fox, would tread too close, would put herself in danger. I was so afraid for her!

Lovely, lovely, beautiful and painful. I also really liked how the story was told from three points of view. Very clever, very effective. I almost liked Shikujo's point of view the best -- I could understand her need to be perfect on the surface -- to hide away the improper feelings. Perhaps that cut a little too close to my own struggles over the years.

As always when I read books from another time and place, I get very curious about the culture. I wonder about the screens the women hide behind, and their long unbound hair. I wonder about these robes -- what did they look like? What was a country-house in old Japan like? I have to do some research.

So I'm torn. Definitely a good book, definitely deeply affecting. Maybe a little too much so, for me, right now. But you should read it. It's worth the time. As long as you aren't too tired and careworn already.


Eva said...

I read another book earlier this year, The Tale of Murasaki, that was set in this same period in Japan. It might be a good choice if you're interested in more of the culture! :) And it's not as sad.

It sounds like you need a good comfort read next!!

Nymeth said...

She broke my heart too, especially with her short stories, which I don't recommend you read right now. It definitely sounds like you need a comfort read!

Her other novel Fudoki is also set in this time period, and it's also lovely. I really loved all the cultural aspects too.

farmlanebooks said...

I put this on my wish list after reading Nymeth's review, so it is interesting to hear another opinion. I love reading about Japan and so I think I'll still read this, but make sure I have a happy book to dive into as soon as I finish!

Daphne said...

Eva: I might have to check out that book... a little later. :) But I did enjoy reading about the culture.

Ana: I'm sort of bummed, because I loved her writing, but clearly am not in the right mood for it. However, I'll keep her in mind for later. And yes -- comfort reading, coming right up!!

Farmlane: You should definitely read it. It was lovely. Just a little too sad for me right now.