A carefully researched if rather ho-hum tale about a Japanese courtesan who scorns all but one of the men obsessed with her: the latest from the prolific Schaeffer (The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat 1998, etc.).
Lady Utsu is a cruel mistress, as her aged servant Aki knows well. Behind closed screens, the women grind glass in a mortar to kill Lord Tsuronosuke, the uncle of her lover, Lord Norimasa. Knowing that the gluttonous Tsuronosuke will be unable to resist the delicacies set forth at their private feast is just the sort of irony that Lady Utsu relishes. Perhaps she will commemorate the occasion by composing a poem or two. Days later, hearing from Norimasa about Tsuronosuke’s slow, agonizing death brings a faint smile to her delicate lips. But back behind the screens she goes, passing long hours in sewing and scheming with the other women of the palace. She pines for a freedom she cannot have, composes more poetry, and so forth. When not glumly contemplating moonlit gardens or beheading people, Lord Norimasa occasionally visits her or his jealous wife, Lady Tsukie, and their seven ugly children. But Lady Utsu pays little heed—she has seduced Matsuhito, Lord Norimasa’s samurai retainer. Though loyal to his lord, Matsuhito finds the feral charms of Lady Utsu irresistible. Indeed, she is associated in the narrative with wild animals, among them a stray cat that miraculously survives a beating by a servant, and a magical white fox. Wandering through medieval Japan, Matsuhito meets just such a fox in his wanderings, which shape-shifts into Lady Utsu, and the lovers are reunited.
Meandering and unfocused, written with a labored simplicity that will remind many of another well-meaning Western chronicler of the mysterious East: Pearl Buck.