So I decided to be an overachiever and read this whole book. I've been working on it since January. It is, indeed, very long and repetitive, not to mention morally repulsive.
It was very difficult for me to read this book due to the fact that it was written long before Christianity came to Japan and is therefore completely void of any Christian influence. My Catholic brain had a very hard time wrapping itself around a culture completely devoid of Christianity.
The book centers around the character of Genji, the son of an Emperor and one of his concubines. It chronicles the life and numerous "amorous exploits" of this man, and then of two of his descendants.
What I learned from this book was that early Japanese culture was pretty hostile to women. Despite the fact that this novel was written by a woman there are a definite lack of strong female characters. There is no lack of females but they are all entirely helpless when it comes to defending their honor, which they need to do quite frequently, as the men of early Japan were apparently not very good at self-control.
In the end I just found this book to be utterly frustrating. It was ridiculously long, it was repetitive, the men were jerks, the women were wimps, and the morality was practically nill. I'm giving it two stars in deference to its historical significance as the first novel ever written. It was also well written. When I first began the book I thought it would be interesting and my hope returned upon reading chapter 45 but, alas, it was not to be. And so I beg you all for your own sanity to avoid reading it! You should learn about it. But don't read it.
Some good quotes:
- "There may seem to have been nothing wrong with a woman making her own choice in the first place, when it turns out to be succesful after all and the outcome honors her, but actually, everything I hear suggests that the worst mistake a girl can make is to act as she pleases in secret, merely because of something someone happens to have told her, without a word to her parents or the permission of those from whom she should seek it."
- "Yes, she thought, her name would be bandied about shamefully enough, but she meant to answer her own heart's questions with honor."
- "Human life is short enough as it is, and we must respect what remains of hers, even if it is no more than a day or two."