Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

relentlessly awful

I’m writing this before reading Emily and Valerie’s posting, and will answer them later
400 pages of relentless abuse is not my idea of a good read. The subject matter was horrible: child and gender abuse in the context of extreme patriarchal oppression. Ironically, one of its strengths as a book – the really vivid portrayal of the Geisha world – is, one hopes, actually wildly inaccurate and therefore not a strength at all. But on balance, and having read reviews, I think he got it right.

It isn’t Golden’s fault that this is such an abhorrent and obnoxious system which exemplifies, better than anything I’ve ever read, the fundamental feminist belief that patriarchal oppression is good for no-one, certainly not the men in whose name it occurs. Are any of the men frequenting Gion really happy and enjoying their drunken flirting? How awful must the rest of their lives be if this is preferable.

What Golden appears to have achieved is the creation of a believable portrait of a particular time/place/section of society – quite a feat for an American man. But apart from it being a subject I loathe, the fiction is itself:
- Far too long It could easily lose 200 pages.
- Hopeless in introducing the wider historical picture – heavy handed references, in one sentence, to Nagasaki bomb or the Depression jarred. Cf, those who’ve read it, how Homestead integrated the micro story with the macro picture.
- Characters are two-dimensional, from the sainted Chairman to evil Hatsumomo. All good in the story emanates from the Chairman, but why?, why is he different from everyone else (except Sayuri) who is either inherently evil and cruel or made so by their situation. He doesn’t explore why Mother or Pumpkin should become so nasty when Sayuri doesn’t. Nor why Mr Bekku – an innocuous presence in the latter parts – is so mindlessly and causelessly cruel to the 2 girls he escorts to Gion. There is a meaningful story to be explored here.

I’m trying to work out why I can read books about eg slavery and Apartheid, with enjoyment, yet not this. Is it because by documenting Sayuri’s rise and rise, Golden is almost justifying and colluding with the system, even acting as an apologist for it as the beautiful Sayuri gets the Chairman (as his mistress) and even better, gets to live in the US of A. A system that enables all this to happen can’t be all that bad, can it? Well, yes it can. It has no mitigating features and a book about it that suggests it does infuriates me.

I can’t imagine why you’d want to see the film: if it glosses over the child abuse and female oppression, to linger on the beauty and pageantry, then it connives with the crimes against humanity that underlie this. If it dwells on these crimes, that’s a voyerism I don’t need to see.