I was puzzled by my reactions to this book. Normally this would be the type of book I devoured in only a few sittings, but there was something about the rhythm of the story that impeded me from becoming fully invested in the tale. There were certain junctions where the story sharply veered off from what had been expected, and I was at first a little confused and then perturbed at how the flow of the tale was being diverted in such a strange way. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of the book that were just brilliant, and some of the scenes were written with such precision and skill that I got lost in them, but then the thread would be lost and I would be left stumbling through passages that were a lot less interesting. Carrie over at Nomadreader says it all so much more succinctly and concisely in her review, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, I encourage you to read it.
Call me a heathen, but the best parts of the book for me were the illicit looks into the brothels and the secret lives of the prostitutes. I guess I’m just fascinated by things like this, because for some reason, these parts were immensely readable and utterly absorbing. I was a little turned off that Oei was so young when she started being exposed to such things, but I began to believe that this was a byproduct of the time and the society in which she lived, and though it made me a little angry, I was also interested in seeing how she would react to it all. I also really liked the descriptive qualities of Govier’s writing when it came to describing the art that Oei and her father were creating. I could almost see the paintings she was describing, and it was interesting to get the added infusion of the supposed emotion that was behind the art the two were churning out. There was a lot of detail and piquancy to the writing which I really enjoyed, and despite the meandering way of the plot at times, I did enjoy certain aspects of the book very much.
One of the main themes which was constantly in play in this book was loyalty. Oei’s loyalty to her father was something that was explored in depth and with great skill by the author. The impression I got was that the more Oei’s loyalty grew, the more quickly she became subsumed in her father’s desires, fame and image. It was impossible for a woman of that time to be known as a great artist, and in some ways I think Oei’s collaboration with her father was both a help and a hindrance to her. She lived in obscurity so he could live in the light, and the more she gave up for him, the more he expected her to give. I thought he was very childlike in his pursuit for recognition and adoration. Frankly, he was a very selfish man, and by taking the best years of Oei’s life in the service of his art he demonstrated his inability to love anyone other than himself. This was a recurring theme. Hokusai valued himself alone, and though Oei grumbled about him and held resentment towards him, she truly did love him and did everything in the service of their shared art: the art that he would get all the credit for.
Another plot element I found interesting was the role the government played in society. These men ruled through violence and fear, and they were constantly changing the strictures when it came to which types of art it was acceptable to create and sell, and which would bring punishment. This left artists at loose ends and constantly having to change their styles and subjects, which is one of the reasons they were so poor. By keeping them off kilter all the times, they were ensuring that no one other than the officials had influence in the community. Hokusai found numerous ways around this, as did the other artists, but it was a daily factor in their lives that kept them from truly being able to advance and become prosperous. When Japan is finally opened to the rest of the world (something the Shogun has violently protested) these artists finally begin to receive the recompense and notoriety that has been held from them for so long. It was all very interesting to read and contemplate.
Though I had subtle issues with the pacing and abrupt narrative shifts, this book was really a very interesting piece of fiction. It was a rather long book and at times it felt plodding, but overall, it was a read that I think a lot of historical fiction enthusiasts would enjoy. The narrative had the ability to veer between raunchy bits and passages of great esoteric wisdom and beauty, which was also interesting to experience. It wasn’t exactly a favorite for me, but I did get a lot of enjoyment out of some of the themes and ideas expressed. A fascinating story that could have used just a little tweaking in the execution.
|About the Author|
Katherine Govier is a winner of the Toronto Book Award and Canada’s Marian Engel Award for a woman writer in mid-career. Her novel Creation, about John James Audubon in Labrador, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in Toronto.
Visit her website at www.theprintmakersdaughter.com and connect with her on Facebook.
|A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.