THE PILLOW BOY OF THE LADY ONOGORO by Alison Fell
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THE PILLOW BOY OF THE LADY ONOGORO

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An inventive and charming quantum leap into new fictional territory from the Scottish poet and novelist best known for her Mer de Glace (1992, not reviewed). Ostensibly a modern translation of an 11th-century erotic novel, this witty conflation (whose title partially echoes that of the classic Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon) describes the sexual dissatisfaction of a gentle poet and concubine who quietly defers to the married General she serves--until attaining erotic fulfillment through the stories whispered into her ear (during lovemaking with the General) by a blind stableboy whom she hides behind their bed. The tales that the boy (Oyu) tells the Lady Onogoro are vividly detailed, very sexy indeed, and deliciously imaginative--especially a bleak account of a variety of amorous baptism (""The Phosphorescence of Ise""), a hilariously confrontational story of woman's revenge on man's smugness and insensitivity (""The Dragon's Bath""), and a brilliant tale of a self-denying priest's sexual comeuppance (""The Doll Festival""). But there's much more to this accomplished novel than the triangle containing Onogoro, Oyu, and (General) Motosuke. The heroine is a member of a circle of women poets, and the haiku and other verses attributed to Onogoro and her peers are wonderfully convincing. Furthermore, Onogoro adroitly performs the difficult feat of weaving unobtrusively into her narrative an enormity of fascinating information about the period and its culture. She also skillfully varies the story's content, introducing such other characters as the real Sci Shonagon and Lady Murasaki (whose The Tale of Genji has been called the world's first novel), and a suspicious Regent who places (his rival) General Motosuke under surveillance, precipitating a chain of intrigue that will also involve, and transform, the General's mistress and her devoted storyteller. The late Angela Carter would have loved this wondrous fever dream of a novel--an R-rated, Orientalist Arabian Nights. It's a stunning performance.

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace