Rating: 2.5 stars
A few people over the years, knowing my love for The Tale of Genji and Lady Murasaki Shikibu, have recommended Sei Shōnagon’s notes about court life, but when I finally came to read it I struggled with The Pillow Book. Every time I sat down to read, within 20 minutes I fell asleep. It slowed me down! Plus, just as I started reading it, I went on holiday for a fortnight and was too busy experiencing my own life to immerse myself in someone else’s life.
Also, Sei Shōnagon was a terrible snob! I enjoyed the passages describing events at court, conversations, and love affairs, but the lists of what is and isn’t good were exceedingly dull. Shōnagon’s attitude to those of lower rank grated on me. For me, she embodies all that is worst in the rich and vacuous. Perhaps something was lost in translation, but I didn’t see how she came to have a reputation as a wit. I preferred the Diary of Lady Murasaki for its observations on court life and for its intelligence.