5 stars – it’s on the re-read list!
The story of Cordelia Kenn, told by herself, covering her life from the age of fifteen until the birth of her baby when she is almost twenty. The Pillow Book is an ancient Japanese form: “A notebook or collection of notebooks kept in some accessible but relatively private place, and in which the author would from time to time record impressions, daily events, poems, letters, stories, ideas, descriptions of people, etc.” [Ivan Morris in the notes to The Pillow Book of Sei Shõnagon.] Cordelia intends to give her book to her daughter as a sixteenth birthday present, so that in this way they can share their teenage years. She includes in her book not only her first love affair and her ambitions and thoughts and everyday events that are important to her, but all sorts of things not usually told in stories. She attempts to include all aspects of her life. Not surprisingly, her book is long.
I picked this book up on impulse at Downtown Disney back in 2006 – Virgin have these great stands with books just sitting there looking inviting and asking to be bought. My husband thought I was mad as this being a hardback – and 800 pages long – is quite a hefty tome! Of course it has since been gathering dust on a shelf for as much as I wanted to read it the sheer weight put me off (I like to read at lunch times and it just looked too heavy to carry to work each day!)
But I finally decided to get stuck in – and it was worth waiting for…
The novel tells the story of Cordelia Kenn, a 19 year old girl, heavily pregnant with her first child – who is writing the story of her youth to present to her daughter when she turns 16. The narrative is broken up with excerpts from Cordelia’s *pillow book* – a collection of journals and poems that she had written during the time.
The story focuses on relationships in Cordelia’s life, from her first love, to her father, her best friend and those she turns to in times of need and desperation.
I found the book very easy to read – I liked the way the narrative was broken up – it was just like reading journal extracts – or a blog – and I felt I really got to know – and like – Cordelia.
I was slightly confused when reaching book 2 – 200 pages in – when the pages didn’t seem to follow on properly… and I realised that this pillow book was actually two – one on the left facing pages and one on the right. With no guidance on how to read it I chose to read the left pages first (mostly abstract journal entries) and then go back and read the right pages (more of a normal novel narrative). This worked well – although it was quite hard to read in such a way – and a bit disheartening to get half way through the book – physically – and then have to go back some 200 pages!
One *warning* I should give is that the book is quite graphic in places – especially when dealing with Cordelia’s sexual history. It reminded me of the shock factor of Judy Blume‘s Forever. While reading I wondered whether I had led a particularly sheltered childhood – or whether the author was letting his imagination run away with him. Yep – slightly odd that such an in depth novel of female teenage years should be written by a man…
But I decided not to dwell on this or it may have put me off!
All in all this was a very enjoyable and insightful novel – and one I would recommend to those with strong enough muscles to tackle it! The good news is that after two years it is finally coming to stores in paperback format in March.
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