Skip to main content

Review: Silk, by Alessandro Baricco

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.


You are right. The only of Baricco's achievements worth reading is NOVECENTO (1900), a wonderful monologue which has been turned into an excellent movie by Giuseppe Tornatore,THE LEGEND OF THE PIANIST ON THE OCEAN
The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is wonderful!
Baricco is a very good popularizer, he reads classics in public in a charming way; he can make you love Conrad or Joyce, Pirandello or Cirano de Bergerac; he makes them alive... but as a novelist... he leaves me quite indifferent, just like you wrote in your review.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…