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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 25, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE PILLOW BOY OF THE LADY ONOGORO by Alison Fell (Harcourt Brace: $22; 247 pp.). Set in the late 10th century to early 11th century in the Heian Court, a time and place, according to our novelist, of high culture and poetic expression, "The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro" is based on a manuscript attributed (not without contest) to the Lady Onogoro, a poet and concubine in the court. To heighten her experiences with the General (her designated lover), the Lady Onogoro hires a blind stableboy to whisper erotic stories to her from behind a screen at the head of her bed. It is a source of embarrassment to Onogoro that it takes "two men to please her," despite the fact that "the General himself seemed to require both wife and mistress for his satisfaction" (some things never change), and in this context love looks more like a highly stylized chess game than a relationship (whatever that is). Almond blossoms, lime blossoms, the moon, carp, inkstone and brushes, breaking waves, "transparent silks in graded chrysanthemum shades," all of these, accompanied of course by the pillow boy's stories (each one invoking a different kind of lovemaking) bring the novel to such a pitch that by the end of it you simply have to make love immediately. (Work out the relationship thing some other time.)

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