“Following a long confinement and strict observance of the eating restrictions associated with bereavement….”
A STRANGE lash up of old Japanese folklore with Gallic machismo teeters on the edge of being a fine read full of intriguing descriptions and sparkling interactions and then bumps along on an Edgar Rice Burroughs style adventure yarn. It would be interesting to compare this with Burroughs and Tarzan and views on other heritable elites. The mundane title might equally. and more literally. have been the Journey of Carp Fisherman’s Widow.
Decoin has published more than 20 books in France, and spent many years researching all this background. Miyuki is wrapped in as as many adjectives as layers of kimonos. She is almost a naïve, encountering strange personalities:
“…an elderly woman with a bloated face, a snub nose, and a large wide mouth, moist like a toad’s, whose body seemed to float within a smock squeezed into red trousers…”
The images of courtly Japan feel, even smell, which is a theme, as close as perhaps we can get to the 12th century or thereabouts.
The relationships also beg attention, even the unrequited ones; people we meet on the way at the monastery, and at the court itself could have been spun out some more, if Miyuki were not so passive, although she did win Decoin a bad sex award for:
“Katsuro’s penis had tasted of raw fish, of warm young bamboo shoots, and of fresh almonds…”
She is on a journey to the office of gardens of the title, a young widow in wild, middle ages Japan, weighed down by the carp she is delivering. The sexual imagery is pretty overt. You can guess it will a reach a climax at the imperial palace, with a contest, of course, evolved here from the ceremony of kodo, being the way of fragrance.
The final pages return us to the elegance of a deeper story, a surprisingly touching end that dispels some of the doubts that probably have built up on the way.