"... in a world in many ways unimaginably different from ours, a lady at the imperial court of Japan settled herself in front of a precious bundle of paper and began to write the extraordinary work later called Makura no sōshi, known to English readers as The Pillow Book. In it she wrote about her world, in a voice so vividly alive that we find ourselves in the presence of a woman we recognize as we would a friend.
The world Sei Shōnagon lived in and wrote for us was the intimate world of the court ... As we read her apparently crazy quilt of vignettes and opinions and anecdotes, we find ourselves deep inside this world, and feel her responses along our own nerves.
... Sei Shōnagon's writing revels in the nuances of sound and scent - the soft tap of a lid placed on a kettle, the faint sussuration of fire tongs gently stirring ash in a brazier, or the lingering scent from someone's incense-impregnated clothes resonate with peculiar intensity. Visual awareness is also acute; the glint of firelight on a metal clasp or the glow of a glossed-silk robe receives loving attention.
This is perhaps to be expected, in a dark interior lit largely by an occasional oil lamp or brazier fire, or pale daylight filtered through fine blinds. What is unexpected and astonishing, however, is the vivid and detailed visual awareness of clothes. A figure some distance away, in a poorly illuminated room, will be recalled years later with an enthralled description of the details of clothing, colour and fabric. It is undoubtedly the case that Sei Shōnagon was particularly finely attuned to and observant of such matters ..."
That's from Meredith McKinney's introduction to The Pillow Book, and this is just a gentle reminder that it's our book group book for this month, and we'll be talking about it here from Saturday, 23rd. November - everyone is welcome to join in.