on 8 January 2003
This is as close as a novel can come to a poem. A story of silk threads linking worlds of reality and possibility. A fairy tale poised between the 19th century silk weaving business in the south of France and the mysterious, fabled connections of silk in the orient with wealth, love, power and politics.
Hervé Joncour travels first to North Africa and then to Japan to buy healthy silkworm eggs and bring them back to his native village; in parallel with his business deals, he finds himself caught in a gossamer web of loves and desires that impel him forward into unknown and dangerous territory, both geographically and emotionally, and he is left to interpret what he sees and hears in his own way - and so are we. The eventual unravelling of these mysteries is as puzzling for him as it is unexpected for us. In his mature years he retires into solitude, to ponder his life and adventures, these no longer a riddle to be guarded in secret, but a story to be told and shared.
This book carries the reader along, as if on a quiet country walk; it is mysterious and spellbinding; it is delightful, insightful and compelling; it is full of metaphor and it is also, just a little self-consciously, a work of art.
on 17 April 2015
It`s a whimsical, other-worldly fable sliced into small bite-sized chunks, and so very easy to read. It has a youthful, innocent quality, reminiscent of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Along with this comes the need (if you`re to appreciate the story and the style) to suspend any strictness of interpretation of logic and realism of detail. Our book group had mixed views on the dramatic change of tone when a letter is re-printed, close to the end of the story. This letter is perplexing. Clearly the author has realised how shocking it will be to many readers: so what were his motives for presenting it in this way? (I pose the question without presuming to judge whether the letter makes or breaks the novella). I couldn`t find any commentary on the internet to throw light on the author`s intentions. The translation by Ann Goldstein is sound. However, there is a whole paragraph missing from the Canongate English language edition. This is about one-third of the way through Chapter 41, where the paragraph from "Dicono che..." to "come pecore" plus the refrain "Pausa" is missing from the English language text. More disappointing is the lack of acknowledgement from Canongate after I wrote to alert them to this. Overall, this is an easy read, with much charm; but the substance is slight.