A stylistically intense series of vignettes chronicle the life, love and matchless intellect of a woman who is an expert on medieval courtly literature.
Shapiro’s 84 vignettes center around Lady Murasaki, an intellectual who is overlooked and underestimated by her peers, and the love of her life, Prince Towa no Ai. The two journey through swiftly changing locales as numerous historical and literary characters move in and out of the narrative, from Pontius Pilate and Yeshua to the devilish Bolcitan and The Cat. The interactions between the characters provide setup after setup for Lady Murasaki to pontificate on her areas of expertise, answering questions and debating points with enthusiasm and great detail. Topics include Dante’s work (the character of Beatrice in particular), â€œIl Cortegiano,” Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian history, epic poetry, ballet and a divergence into modern social commentary in a look at â€œWimp English.” Interspersed within these scenes are stream-of-consciousness lists, imagery and snippets of other scenes. The book is extremely talky, making it short on dramatic tension. Shapiro’s work is most engaging when he sticks to a narrative, as the final scenes between Lady Murasaki and Prince Towa no Ai are especially tender and moving. The rigorously demanding writing style will likely push most readers far beyond their comfort zone and compel them to keep a dictionary close at hand. Those who do soldier on until the end will be rewarded with the â€œPostilla Epistolaria,” Shapiro’s notes/correspondence on the vignettes. Here, the author informs that Lady Murasaki is based on his late wife Marianne and her experiences in academia, and explains that the characters so brutally revenged upon in the book are based on real individuals. This final section is as illuminating as viewing the top of a puzzle box which bears a completed picture, after having confusedly mulled over 1,000 random puzzle pieces. In this respect, Shapiro successfully motivates readers to reread specific passages with fresh eyes.
A multilayered love story, cloaked in a demanding writing style that masks the true nature of the plot.