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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.

Comments

MARIA GRAZIA said…
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
http://www.mooviees.com/4510-the-legend-of-the-pianist-on-the-ocean/movie
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.

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2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…