All The Books I Can Read

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Read-a-long Discussion Post #1 – The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn

on October 16, 2013

Storyteller

Anyone not taking part in the read-a-long skim to the bottom of the post to enter to win 1 of 5 copies

Hello everyone and welcome to the first discussion post for The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn. Before you read this post or comment please make sure you’ve read the first section of the book, from pages 1-131 to avoid being spoiled for anything!

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The setting of the book is late 1800s Japan which is something I’m not very familiar with and is not very well represented in my reading. It seems that it was a bit of a time of turmoil for Japan with the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the rise of the Meiji Restoration which opened Japan up to trade with Europe. Japan wanted to be a superpower in world affairs and there was some thought that like other world superpowers such as Britain, France etc, they should also have colonies and for this they seemed to be eyeing off their neighbouring Korea. I found the history incorporated into the story quite interesting, especially seeing as it was done in a way that seemed quite subtle and not like it was deliberately educating the reader. Is anyone else as unfamiliar with the setting as me and if so, did you feel that the book did an adequate job of helping to set it for you? Do you like the style of the writing and the way that the story is unfolding?

The story centers around Sei, a storyteller in his fifties who is experiencing a slight decline in his career given that newer and younger storytellers are on the block, working in European fables and myths, making their work more exciting than Sei’s more traditional stories. He has three daughters all of whom he has arranged marriages for but two of the marriages break down in the first section of the book which means that he has two of his daughters come home to live. He is in some debt but an answer to his financial problems might’ve come in an offer from a charismatic man only Sei is unsure whether or not to accept or decline only to find out that the decision has been made for him – and now he must fulfill his part of the bargain. He looks to the comings and goings of his neighbours for inspiration for new stories and through them he discovers a Korean actor. These relationships that he observes become the basis for a new story and one of the lodgers at his neighbours house introduces him to French novels and they become the basis for several more.

A recurring interest in the novel so far is “nanshoku” or “man love” which seems to be culturally ingrained in Japan during the time of the warriors and is described as “more admirable than falling in love with a woman”. It ran to all facets of society before it was basically outlawed. Sei himself is familiar with it although claims to have had no real personal experience. However he becomes fascinated with several male-male relationships around him revolving around the young Korean actor Kyu and he becomes very invested in what is happening between all of the players for what he thinks will be his greatest story yet.

I found the role of women interesting – although Sei loves his daughters, he refers to his youngest daughter as their “third disappointment” and it’s clear that he mourns the loss of his only son, who died as a small child, very deeply. He hasn’t been able to speak of his son and he even avoids his two grandchildren at times because they remind him. Several of the female characters seem to breaking through the traditional molds: Michi, who lodges with Sei’s landlord and helps with meals and housework and is stated as being one of only 3 or 4 female medical students in the country. Another is Sei’s middle daughter who has left her wealthy but domineering husband and wishes to carve out a name for herself as a writer. Most other women within the story seem to fulfill traditional roles of homemaking and have little to do outside of the home.

Sei is described as cold and prideful and ignorant to his wife’s desires – do you agree or disagree with this description of him? What sort of man do you think him to be and do you think he knew what was really happening in the discussion and secret meeting with Yamagishi Takayuki? I find the idea of a storyteller really fabulous – more intimate than the theatre and more personal. I really enjoyed the stories that Sei performed near the end of this section and look forward to the ones he’s working on – although I do have a bit of an ominous feeling about what might happen!

I hope you all are enjoying this read so far and have lots to say about it in the comments and we’ll be back here next week for the second part of the discussion and wrap up.

Giveaway!

Want to win a copy of The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn courtesy of Hachette Australia? Simply fill in the form below. Australian residents only.

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7 responses to “Read-a-long Discussion Post #1 – The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn

  1. Firstly, I think I got more of an overview of the timeline from your brief in the first paragraph! Given what I thought of this half, I did not think there was enough background. I feel as though a little more background would help the impact (when we get to it) later on.
    I find Sei as being quite old, and has lost the ‘urges’ of man. The financial woes and the standstill in his career have bothed wormed their way into his psyche. He feels older than he probably is.
    The disappointments, I felt, were a bit thin in context, and placed there as plot points and slightly one dimensional.
    Sometimes the language of Sei did not feel right for me. He sometimes spoke too modern for me.
    Otherwise, I am drawn to this book and cannot wait to see what happens to Sei and the daughters.

    • Lol Stephen I did a quick google just so I didn’t make any mistakes. It did help me understand what was going on a bit more in the story as well. I totally agree with you about the language being very modern – I thought that several times. He didn’t sound much like a traditional Japanese man.

      I’m glad you are enjoying it so far and looking forward to seeing what happens next!

  2. Mary Preston says:

    This does sound like a very interesting book.

  3. Susan says:

    Hi all,

    I am enjoying this book but am definitely having to overcome a few obstacles in order to do so. I, too, am struggling with the language which feels too feminine (eg ‘I love winter stories, especially on hot autumn evenings.’ p117), and somewhat contemporary. I am also struck by how prosaic the writing is considering the first person narrator is supposed to be a master storyteller. The language is stilted and abrupt, much like the kind of speech that a person suffers when learning to speak a new language. Hence, I’m trying to tell myself that it is an old text that has been recently translated to explain the absences of poetry and history that I had anticipated. (My advice to the author would be to use less words that contain dominant letter sounds, such as D.)

    I am not a fan of first-person narration because it tends to lack vital descriptions of characters and places, and this book is no exception. I feel that I have very little idea of what Sei’s physical surroundings look like, nor can I clearly picture his fellow characters.

    I must also admit that I am never fond of authors who write about writing, which is terribly unfair or me, I know, but I am always tempted to think that the author is being a little lazy by writing about what they know, rather than researching what they don’t. Having said that, the book has offered up some clear insight into the struggles of being a writer and the anguish of being published. (For example, p122 when Sei rejects Takayuki’s lack of praise for his work; and pp104 when Shigure is equally excited and petrified about having her work published.)

    I would be interested to find out more about the historical accuracy of the portrayal of women and homosexuals. I’m quite surprised that the woman are so outspoken and assertive, working as a doctor (Michi) and demanding divorces (Sei’s daughters). And I am amazed at how liberal society appears to be in regard to male-male relationships.

    What I really do like about the book is the way the dialogue is not packed into inverted commas but written screenplay style. The exception is the dialogue that appears within Sei’s stories themselves when he delivers them at the Kiharatei hall (pp125-130). During his speech, any dialogue is formatted in the conventional novel style. Perhaps the author is teasing us about what is real and what is make-believe.

    After 131 pages I am warming to this book but I do hope the characters begin to open up to reveal more of themselves from this point. I don’t feel particularly interested or connected to any of them so far. The author has done a fine job of introducing many characters and situations to the reader so I am also interested to see how all of those loose threads of plot/character etc will begin to fit back together to reveal a conclusion.

  4. Susan says:

    Apologies for the spelling mistake in the third para; I meant “which is terribly unfair OF me”. Susan 🙂

  5. luvzalkemy says:

    I am enjoying the book but I must admit it has taken me a bit of time to get into it. Once the daughters arrived it became more lively and we got more insight into Sei’s character, rather than just presenting as a grumpy old man. I loved the way his relationship with his wife changed around this time too – it seemed very real. I must be engaged with the characters as now I am worried about how Sei will manage to get out of the difficult political trouble he seems to have unwittingly landed himself in! (I can’t give spoilers away….)

    I quite like the way the conversations are laid out differently to the rest of the story. I probably would like to know more about the backgrounds of some of the minor characters. I hope this is fleshed out in the second half of the book.

    I agree that it would have been good to have some idea of the physical surroundings, especially as the setting and period of history is not very familiar to me at least.

    I am keen to see how the story plays out.

  6. […] Hello everyone and welcome to the second and final part of the discussion. Thank you to everyone who left a comment last week. For those who aren’t reading along and haven’t entered the giveaway yet, do pop down to the bottom of the post and fill in the form if you’d like the chance to win a copy of this one. The first discussion post is here. […]

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