Shogun by James Clavell

Vertigo

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This was a reread for me, if you can call reading it again after nearly forty years a reread. I confess that I went into it with some trepidation; would I survive a novel over 1200 pages long whose plot I still remembered quite vividly? And the answer has rather gratifyingly turned out to be a resounding yes. In fact, throughout the book I was checking the page count not with dread at much was still to go but rather with dread at how I was steadily approaching the end. This is probably not the greatest literature but it is certainly great story-telling.

In 1600 John Blackthorne is the Pilot Navigator of a small Dutch fleet of privateer merchant ships attempting to reach Japan by the Pacific. The last surviving ship finally arrives in a storm, barely escaping being wrecked, only to be imprisoned by the local Samurai. The story then follows Blackthorne’s gradual adoption into the Bushido culture and involvement in the momentous political upheaval happening at that time in Japan.

The first question that must be asked is just how historically accurate is the book? The answer is: sort of. All the main characters are based on real characters with their names changed (Blackthorne is the William Adams, Toronaga is Tokugawa Ieyasu etc.) however the real events have been compressed from several years to several months and much simplified, for example I believe there were four or five ruling councils in reality rather than the one regents’ council in the book. In other words, though based on real history, a very great deal of artistic licence has been employed. And this is fine; Clavell never claimed otherwise, it was written as a romantic fiction. More interesting to me as a reader is how culturally accurate it is. Here the consensus seems to be that it is quite tolerably accurate, both regarding Japanese feudal culture and European culture of that time. Though again the Japanese culture is, almost certainly, considerably romanticised for the purposes of the story. I don’t get the impression that all samurai of the time were quite as ready to commit seppuku at the drop of a hat as the story would sometimes have the reader believe. However, one of the most illuminating aspects of the book is the well-illustrated contrast between these two very different cultures.

The writing and pacing throughout the book are exceptional. To maintain the page turning pace and interest over such a large page count is remarkable and I never felt the story flagged in the slightest. This was no doubt helped by Clavell’s cast of very different and very well filled out characters. Characters whose motivations were made clearly understandable despite, for westerners, the strangely alien way of thinking of the Japanese protagonists. If I have one criticism here it is Clavell’s tendency to head hop between the characters with little warning and sometimes mid scene. It did work, just, to give the reader two, often very diverse, views of the same situation but was sometimes a little disconcerting.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shogun for a second time and I had truly forgotten just how excellent and informative a read it is.

Note: if interested it is worth taking a look at this downloadable collection of academic essays entitled Learning from Shogun Learning from Shogun



5/5 stars
 

BAYLOR

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You might also want to checkout Mushashi by Eiji Yoshikawa.:cool:
 

Vertigo

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I have wondered about giving that one a go, but I have seen some scathing reports on it as well as the good ones.
 

Boneman

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PETER Blackthorn??? John, I think you'll find.

I read this book almost yearly, and constantly surprise myself how much I find that is new/ fresh. Okay that could be my ageing memory, but nonetheless, this is still my all-time favourite novel, it still grabs me from the off, and he breaks just about every 'rule' of writing. As you say, head-hopping pov changes that shouldn't work, but do. You simply don't notice them, because the storytelling is so superb. I don't think I have ever cared so much about fictional characters, my emotions still get worked to extremes, and I love the love and tragedy... I still want to write the sequel, he can't be left on that beach, with his life unresolved...

Beautiful book, that transcends every other attempt at storytelling I've ever read. I think I'm going to have to read it again...
 

Vertigo

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PETER Blackthorn??? John, I think you'll find.

I read this book almost yearly, and constantly surprise myself how much I find that is new/ fresh. Okay that could be my ageing memory, but nonetheless, this is still my all-time favourite novel, it still grabs me from the off, and he breaks just about every 'rule' of writing. As you say, head-hopping pov changes that shouldn't work, but do. You simply don't notice them, because the storytelling is so superb. I don't think I have ever cared so much about fictional characters, my emotions still get worked to extremes, and I love the love and tragedy... I still want to write the sequel, he can't be left on that beach, with his life unresolved...

Beautiful book, that transcends every other attempt at storytelling I've ever read. I think I'm going to have to read it again...
Yes, of course you are right about John! I must have picked up the Peter from the book I'm reading at the moment with Peter the main protagonist. But let's face it he is almost never referred to as John in the book, so maybe a forgivable oversight! ;) Shame I can't go back and correct it now; it will sit there shaming me for eternity!
 
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Luiglin

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Great book and not a bad mini series which can be found free on YouTube.
 
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