Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 104 pages; 1997. Translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman.
Alessandro Baricco’s Silk is a powerful and erotic tale that reveals how one’s man desire threatens to ruin his life.
It is 1861 and Hervé Joncour is a silk breeder from France who is happily married to the beautiful Helene. Compelled to travel illegally to Japan alone in search of disease-free silkworms, Hervé comes across a “girl who does not have oriental eyes” and, despite not exchanging one word with her, falls deeply in love.
Over the course of several years Hervé continues to make return trips to Japan in order to buy more silkworms and to lay his eyes on the beautiful and intriguing woman to whom he has become enthralled.
When the woman gives him a note that reveals her love for him, Hervé finds his life in France unravelling as he becomes more obsessed with the woman at “the end of the earth”. He channels his frustrations into building a beautiful park in the grounds of his home and takes his wife on exotic holidays to hide his unhappiness.
When a second erotically charged letter arrives from his lover he is distraught by the contents, for while it is professes love and devotion it also warns Hervé to never seek contact with her again…
In the style of an old-fashioned fable, Alessandro Baricco has crafted a beautiful and mesmirising novella. Some of the chapters are so short they read more like poems, which greatly adds to the charm and mystique of the story. The writing is hypnotic, repetitive and deeply affecting.
I read this book in under an hour and found myself greatly moved by the love affair. And the shock ending left me feeling stunned, so much so I wasn’t quite sure if I had fully understood what had happened: had I read too much into it?
Ultimately this is an astonishing piece of writing. Heart-breaking, bewitching and passionate.