A special look at July’s book of the month: Shogun

NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!

If there are two things I love, they are reading and samurai. So, logic dictates that I would be hooked on a novel all about samurai based on a historical event. Sadly, James Clavell’s Shogun fell short of that promise. It started off strong but I felt it stretched its story too thin, rambled in places where it did not need to and, worst of all, I couldn’t even finish it.

Yes, July’s book of the month is one I couldn’t even see through to the end. So, I must have a pretty good reason for writing about it, neh? Oh, don’t underestimate the amount of times ‘neh’ is used in this book. I counted it at least once on every two pages… and there are about1,000 of them! At the end of the day, Shogun paints a vivid image of early 17th century Japan that is both historically accurate and humbling. One thing you cannot fault Clavell on is the research he obviously put into this book.

Shogun is based on the true-life story of William Adams, an Englishman who was washed up on Japan and, in short, ‘turned native’. Our story follows the fictional John Blackthorne, who is shipwrecked with his crew and, after a torturous imprisonment, is recognised as a valuable asset against the Portugese and rumours of civil war. Taken on as a vassal by Toranaga, he must learn the language and ways of the Japanese.

What is fantastic about Shogun is the historical detail. You do not feel like an outsider observing everything through rose-tinted glasses. As beautifully as some things are depicted, such as the tea ceremony or way of the samurai, there are many harrowing scenes of torture and execution in between. At the same time, the overall narration is very Japanese, and so those values shine through in the darkest moments of death and abandonment.

I think Shogun might be a gripping and plot twist-filled historical novel for someone who doesn’t know anything about Japanese history. Having checked out a couple of book reviews, the things everybody commented on were the plot twists and the ending. However, if you know anything about Japanese history, the title gives a lot of it away. I did not feel bad about stopping with another 200 pages to go because it went on and on without anything dramatic in between. It starts off strongly and has a lot to teach about everyday Japanese life in that period so, if you’re thinking of writing your own novel, it’s definitely worth checking out.

However, I appear to be in a minority of people who did not finish the book. Clavell is the celebrated author of the ‘Asia series’ and Shogun spawned an incredibly popular miniseries in the 1980s. If you’re interested in the story but not much of a book person, you might want to give that a watch.

3 thoughts on “A special look at July’s book of the month: Shogun

  1. Pingback: Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai at Sadler’s Wells |

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