A novel, by Liza Dalby, based on the life of Murasaki Shikibu the author of The Tale of Genji. It tells of the young woman who wrote stories of a dashing courtly hero, her background, her viewpoints, and of the fame and position that it brought her.
Dalby, an anthropologist who spent time training as a geisha, has created a fictional memoir based on the few surviving scraps and fragments of Murasaki's diaries. Weaving these together with some of the poems and stories from Genji she has created a fascinating but slightly over-meticulous picture of the life of an amazing woman. It's a smooth and pleasing read, but her research shows through the storytelling just a little too clearly. There are details in there that seem to belong more to a travel or history book than a novel. It feels like it was written to cash in on the same market that bought up Memoirs of a Geisha in the millions.
Genji itself gives a rich, detailed picture of the same world, without the slightly arch filtering of hindsight. Dalby's novel is an easy introduction to reading something that may appear daunting, but it doesn't approach its beauty and elegance.