Do to others what you would have done to yourself – or you may find yourself in a terrible predicament.
Publisher: Phoenix (Orion Books)
First Published: 2005
Date Reviewed: 11th June 2010
If you wish to read this book you may have to search for it, for it appears to be out of print. Articles on Julith Jedamus are nowhere to be found.
A fallen princess comes into possession of the diary of the woman who slandered her name. She presents this diary, unedited, to the reader, whom she hopes will understand how awful this woman was. In 10th Century Japan two women sought to gain the heart of one man. The writer of the diary, our narrator and the one pushed aside, tells of her plight to get him back after he was sent into exile for damaging the emperor’s reputation and the virtue of the high princess. She spreads rumours to hurt her rival but comes to fall in love with another; however those old rumours are not easily shifted in a world where thousands can hear them.
It took this reviewer ages to get into the book. Up until half-way through it’s easy to get distracted from it, even if you’ve nothing to be distracted by because essentially you’re thrown into the middle-end of a story. It bypasses the tale of how things were, going straight into the time after the main event – the triangle between the man and the two women – has happened rather than telling you about it as it happened. All there is to read about, therefore, is the aftermath. How is one supposed to feel for a character they haven’t spent time with? An important factor in a book is being able to relate to the characters in some way, whether that’s with fondness, an understanding, or dislike. This fundamental concept has been left out by Jedamus to dire effect. We have a situation where the title of the book is perfect for it’s contents, but for all the wrong reasons.
The distance between reader and character is a pity because the writing errs on the side of beauty – with nothing to keep your interest you’re not going to recognize the poetry as many times as you should. However, this said, Jedamus has made too much of her favour towards metaphors anyway. I can’t be the only one coming up with images of a writer sat in silence, unmoving at her desk, desperately searching her mind for anything, anything, that she can turn into a metaphor. I put to you two quotations, the first an example of goodness, the second perhaps the biggest clanger of all:
My needle flashed back and forth through the blue silk, like a wasp darting amongst a bed of delphiniums.
His limbs as pale as peeled willow.
Where did Jedamus find the idea for the second one? She has written a sentence that will boggle most of her readers because let’s face it, how many people will have seen peeled willow? It’s a good metaphor for the time period perhaps but it’s too specific, niche, for us today.
Going back to the plot of the story and the content that should not have been missed, the reader is thrown straight into the “action” without sufficient background knowledge. “Action” is put in quotations because in actual fact there is no action, not of the generally presumed kind (although if by “action” you read “sex”, well yes there is a bit of that). Most of the story is taken up by the spreading of rumours, rumours that you couldn’t care less about because, as said, there’s no reason to feel anything for the characters. You may feel a little dislike for the narrator but while that may have been the aim of the fallen princess who presented the work, it doesn’t seem to be Jedamus’s aim. Certainly she wants us to look at both sides and see the cruelty produced by these sides, but she seems to want us to be forgiving too.
The plot eases up where there is dialogue as it gives you something current to focus on. The scenes between the narrator and her new lover are especially easy to read simply because this man is a new acquaintance of hers and thus their story is brand new, the one thing the reader is given that started in the book itself. Finally, as the lover gains overall importance and the narrator begins to forget her malicious ways the plot turns into something you look forward to reading. The narrator seeks redemption, and even if it’s too late there are from then on reasons to become emotionally involved.
The romantic scenes are in the main short and passionate, without being graphic. Sex is mostly simply alluded to (though there are a few descriptions) and more emphasis is placed on feelings and emotions.
The ending is interesting: the princess, in a postscript that suggests what happened afterwards, concludes it, but not fully – there is room for your own conclusion. Whether the end is satisfactory you’ll also have to decide for yourself.
Quite honestly it’s not difficult to see why this book is out of print. There is not enough explanation of culture and too many heavy references. Jedamus would make a stunning poet, non-fiction author, and even commentator, but as a novelist her future is unlikely to get any better. This is the story of a woman cast into hell by a man who soiled the reputation of many women; a woman so hurt she saw it necessary to drag others along with her. It has a good message but takes far too long to find it.