Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shigata ga nai

Yesterday, I finally finished reading James Clavell's Shogun. It has never taken me so long--about four weeks--to finish a book.

Shogun is an epic story, spanning nearly twelve hundred pages, multiple seasons, and so many characters that I routinely just plain forgot who I was reading about. But it was also one of the finest examples of literary craft I have ever read. Clavell's grasp of character, plot, noble intrigue, and history are so complete that I never once doubted his depiction of medieval Japan or the characters he set loose there. I quickly became attached to the characters and the places in the book, and Clavell made me desire the same things that motivated the main characters deep in their souls--even the dark, hidden parts.

Although I'd like to enjoy more of Clavell's work in the future, the reality is that Shogun was simply too long for me. I was enthralled for the first six hundred pages, dying to discover the resolution the next three, and simply frustrated by the book's final quarter. Although I can admire the mastery Clavell wields to be able to produce a story that weaves together so many threads into a single, durable rope, the rope was simple too long and ultimately my fingers chaffed, slipped, and I fell into the abyss I was trying to cross with it. I skimmed the last twenty five pages and then read the very last one, just so I could know what really happened in the end.

I felt pretty bad for skipping that last little chunk; what was I missing, I wonder, by not truly reading those words, not truly experiencing every last moment of the epic of Blackthorne and Toranaga? I'll never really know. But, as Clavell's characters are apt to say, there is nothing you can do. Karma, neh? Shigata ga nai.

-bn

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