Silk is a short novel—so short that I finished reading it within the space of an hour two. It’s the story of Herve Joncour, a French merchant of silkworm eggs, who travels to Japan. While there, his attention is caught by a young woman, with whom he has an affair.
As I’ve said, this is a pretty short novella—my edition is only about 90 pages, most of which is white space. There are lots of short chapters in this book, lots of short sentences, ideas half realized. The love affair between Herve and the young woman in Japan is so muted and mysterious that it’s nearly indiscernible. There’s not much characterization, so we don’t ever really get to know Herve or any of the other characters in this book (his love interest isn’t even given a name!). This makes it very hard for the reader, in the end, to really care about the characters—or the love story.
For such a short book, there’s a lot of repetition, too; the author mentions over and over again how Herve’s paramour doesn’t have oriental eyes, or Herve’s numerous trips from France to Japan and back again. And what's with the obsession with Lake Baikal, which has nothing to do with the story? I’m sure there’s a lot of emotional wealth to this book, but I just didn’t “get” it, I guess. I lived in Japan for a while as a child, and the details on Japanese culture are a bit suspect and sketchyt—as are the descriptions of the West in the 1860s. It’s not that this is a bad book, it’s just that I didn’t particularly care for it.