There's a lot to like about Shogun, and it definitely held my interest throughout, but ultimately I didn't quite like it enough to recommend it. My ma...moreThere's a lot to like about Shogun, and it definitely held my interest throughout, but ultimately I didn't quite like it enough to recommend it. My main problem with it is the end; or rather, its lack of an ending. Given the situation, plot, and characters that James Clavell created over the course of the first 1150 pages, I think he really needed another 1000+ pages to wrap everything up satisfactorily. Instead, the climactic battle that everything in the book was leading up to--as well as the fates of all the major characters--are contemplated and foreseen in the mind of one character over the course of the final two pages, then the outcome of the battle and its 40,000 dead are described in a single paragraph, followed by the death of a major character in another single paragraph. Bang. The End. That's it.
Shogun takes place in 1600, and its protagonist John Blackthorne, the English pilot of a Dutch trading ship, is inspired by William Adams, who was the first Englishman to reach Japan. While there, Adams advised the real-life Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and built Western-style sailing ships for him. Clavell's fictional version of Tokugawa is named Toranaga, and most of the novel is concerned with him jockeying for position in the midst of nationwide chaos and strife. Toranaga sees a potential gold mine in Blackthorne, who has knowledge of not only Western ocean vessels, but also Western methods of waging war, both on land and on sea.
Clavell excels at plotting and character development, and most of the novel consists of scenes involving just two or three characters. There's a lot of political intrigue, betrayal, and subterfuge in Shogun, and most of it is moved forward by either conversation or internal monologue. Despite the book's length, it's rarely boring. The development of the main character from an unwashed European who sees the Japanese as fanatical, unfeeling, bloodthirsty savages to a samurai and hatamoto in the service of Toranaga who speaks halting Japanese and deeply respects their culture is handled well, and provides much of the book's interest. This is, however, just one more reason why I wished the book was twice as long. I wanted to continue to see Blackthorne's development; to see if he stayed in Japan or not, to see him possibly become fluent in the language, and to see his development continue.
I know it's usually praise to say a book "could be twice as long," but that type of praise usually comes in the form of "I loved it, and I wished it would never end." In the case of Shogun, however, I was looking forward to its end by at least page 1100, since I'm not crazy about books that are really, really long. I would gladly, however, have read another thousand pages, or maybe Shogun, Part II or whatever, just to have a sense of completion. Shogun is a book with a beginning, a very long middle, and a page and a half of epilogue. I think it's OK to leave things hanging in a novella or a short story, but with more than 1000 pages to tell a story, an author really needs to create a satisfying arc. And an ending.(less)
A well plotted and concisely written examination of art's relationship to life told in the form of a historical mystery. Imagine the players from Haml...moreA well plotted and concisely written examination of art's relationship to life told in the form of a historical mystery. Imagine the players from Hamlet wandering into The Name of the Rose and sorting things out.(less)