A weaver’s genius ignites the jealousy of her peers, the possessiveness of her mill’s proprietress and the hopes of an unborn nation.
Furi knows she was born to create, but the fabric of her life otherwise weaves mysteries. These things are more than they appear:
Shin, the gardener, with his unlikely power over life and death;
A mysterious illness with a selective death route;
Kitsuke artist Madame Sato, who would fashion Furi into a reincarnation of her own dead daughter;
The princess of a puppet emperor, who has strange loyalties to a humble gardener; and
The vaporous rumor of a war with no apparent aggressor.
Spinning Silk is Inspired by Japanese folklore including the love story of Orihime and Hikoboshi as well as a radical reimagining of the terrible tsuchigumo (spider spirits) and jorogumo demons.
I didn’t know much about this book going into it except that it was based on Japanese folklore. The book is told from the point of view of Furi, a young peasant girl among one of the servant classes, little better than a slave. We follow her journey from childhood to adulthood as she is shuffled around the village, and later farther afield, as she is handed into one or another’s keeping.
The thing I loved most about this book was the prose, and the way in which the story was told. The prose really sets the atmosphere; it’s simple but the language used and sentence structure are very deliberate and really serve the story well. There are also many times when Furi, narrating her own story, while looking back alludes to events on the horizon. This lends a certain expectation of things to come, sometimes in an ominous way, which I rather liked. There is also a certain….white space…for lack of a better term, within the writing. Meaning that the story doesn’t feed you every single detail of everything happening. This could feel confusing, I suppose, but that vague feeling of not always knowing exactly what’s going on, like something in a dreamlike state, is one of my favorite things when it’s pulled off well, like it is here. This technique made this feel very fairytale-like at times. It also feels sort of like ‘rests’ in music–the quiet spaces in between notes. I quite enjoyed this style.
Furi is an interesting character. At times it was easy to empathize with her, especially because of her circumstances. At other times, when she had the chance to act and didn’t or made crazy decisions, I felt frustrated with her. But, I think that’s because Furi, despite trying, is never really a master of her own destiny. Even at the end, when she finally was able to make a choice, she realized she really didn’t have much of a choice about things at all. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that, to be honest. On the one hand, it’s very in keeping with something of a folk tale. On the other hand, I usually enjoy characters that are more of an active participant in their own lives. Still, I don’t think this point was much of a detractor for me because it makes sense in context.
Other characters are interesting as well. Even those that are not nice people are multi-faceted. This was especially true of Madame Sato, the third person Furi lives with on her journey. At times she displays flashes of caring for Furi, as more than a master to a servant. Other times she is underhanded, insistent, pushy, and quite infuriating. I quite enjoyed the relationship between her and Furi, however, because it was the most complex relationship in the story besides that of Furi and Shin.
Shin is a mysterious character. I admit I love these types of characters. You don’t really know who they are, what their motives are, whether or not they are even normal humans because why are you disappearing like that all the time, Shin? At times he felt rather convenient because he was always swooping in at just the right times, but I didn’t think that was an issue because it’s obvious that he is more than what he seems on the surface, more than a simple gardener. The relationship between Shin and Furi was so very interesting. A lot of what lies between them, I feel, is what’s in those ‘white spaces in between’. There is this one scene, I think they’re in the garden shed, and it’s just such a lovely moment between them, filled with the sweetest kind of tension. And everything is communicated between them without words in that moment and it was so beautifully written.
The one small problem I had with this book was the end. Not because of certain events that happen at the end, but because I feel like the style of the story changed slightly during the last 10-15% of the novel. Suddenly there was a lot less of that ‘white space’ and the prose felt a little different. The mystery was resolved and that was a bit of a let down. Not the explanation of it all, just that it was explained at all. I feel like it would have worked a little better for me if certain things had remained a mystery. But even this small disappointment wasn’t much to hinder my enjoyment of the rest of the story. I think this was probably the difference between a 4 and 5 star read for me, however.
Overall, I really enjoyed this Spinning Silk. The prose was lovely, and this was an interesting and atmospheric tale. 4/5 stars.