My knowledge of Japanese culture has never extended much beyond sushi, karaoke and bukake, and all three of those leave a fishy taste in my mouth. I suppose it’s my own fault for choosing to sing tracks from "The Little Mermaid" when I go to a local karaoke night.
In my youth I did once think of visiting Japan. I was going to go with a girlfriend but we eventually decided against the plan because she was a large lady. A very large lady. The main worry that stopped us from going was the fear that, as soon as her elephantine feet started clomping through central Tokyo, the Japanese authorities might mistake her for Godzilla and start shooting at her with tanks.
That relationship didn’t work out for three reasons. She kept saying I was insensitive to her weight issues and she claimed I never listened to what she was saying. I can’t remember if she told me the third reason.
But, I only mention these points to show that my knowledge of Japan had never stretched much further than bukake and Godzilla. (Please note that reference there was to Godzilla AND bukake as two separate events – not Godzilla performing or receiving bukake, which would be surreal at best and possibly a little disconcerting. Although it might suggest the terror in the actors’ eyes when they all screamed, “Godzilla is coming! Godzilla is coming!”)
However, Donna George Storey’s Amorous Woman has helped me bridge some of my ignorance of all things Eastern.
For those of you who follow erotic fiction, the name of Donna George Storey will already be familiar. Donna is a mistress in the art of the short story and has been in more anthologies than the word copyright. Donna’s shorts are renowned for being hot, exciting and invariably blend intelligent storytelling with sexually arousing subject matter. Amorous Woman is Donna’s first novel length exploration of erotic fiction.
And it’s a bloody good read.
For those of you who don’t know Donna, she is a talented American author who has always had a penchant for Japanese culture. This affection comes across powerfully in Amorous Woman, a story that has its roots passionately thrust into Japan’s civilised heritage. The amorous woman of the novel’s title is an inter-textual reference to Ihara Saikaku’s seventeenth century fantasies of a Japanese courtesan-turned-nun. Donna brings this story up to date with her protagonist (Lydia) who isn’t quite a courtesan but is a long way from being a nun.
The first thing that struck me about this book is the fact that the author is maddeningly clever. The eloquence of Donna’s writing matches the elegant style of Japanese culture (as it is probably perceived by those who aren’t boorish bukake/karaoke/Godzilla louts). As I mentioned before, I’ve previously encountered Donna’s work in her wonderful short stories. Amorous Woman is similarly presented in a series of short and manageable chapters which, despite their brevity, are each exciting, arousing and carry the narrative along with startling swiftness.
And it’s definitely a narrative worth pursuing. Lydia, teaches Japanese culture to American businessmen. Lydia knows her subject inside and out. And Lydia enjoys teaching and learning. The story begins when Lydia is indulging in a little tsukiai, the Japanese custom of bonding over drinks after work, with two of her American businessmen students. As she relates her intimate history to them, we get to learn about some of this remarkable heroine’s fantastic adventures.
The central theme of this Bildungsroman story is maturation and the passing of innocence to experience. Donna cleverly works this tale so we can see her heroine maturing, but we’re always wondering if she has finally grown up.
As I said before, Amorous Woman is beautifully executed. The text is accessible and easy to read, but it carefully mimics the ritualised politeness of so many familiar elements of Japanese culture. From the carefully worded section headers, ("A Dancing Girl of Easy Virtue," "A Monk’s Wife in a City of Worldly Temptations" and "Lusts of Learned Men" – to name three of my favourites) to the skilfully recreated scenes of passion (there are too many of these to name favourites) the inherent politeness of the Orient is effortlessly woven throughout the fabric of this enchanting story. The end result is as exquisitely economical with words as the most well-written haiku; as cultured and civilised as the most ritualised tea ceremony; and as satisfying as the most gifted geisha.
Lydia’s progression from naive student, to experienced sensei is carefully catalogued and, although Donna clearly knows her Japanese culture, there is never one place where she leaves the reader behind or patronises with her skilfully worded translation for an unfamiliar term.
If your knowledge of Japanese culture could do with a little stretching, or if you simply enjoy well-written erotica, you won’t go far wrong with meeting this “Amorous Woman.”