Review: The Fox Woman

Title: The Fox Woman
Author: Kij Johnson
Publication: 2000 by Tom Doherty Associates
Format: Hardcover

Book Synopsis

Yoshifuji is a man fascinated by foxes, a man discontented and troubled by the meaning of life. A misstep at court forces him to retire to his long-deserted country estate, to rethink his plans and contemplate the next move that might return him to favor and guarantee his family’s prosperity.

Kitsune is a young fox who is fascinated by the large creatures that have suddenly invaded her world. She is drawn to them and to Yoshifuji. She comes to love him and will do anything to become a human woman to be with him.

Shikujo is Yoshifuji’s wife, ashamed of her husband, yet in love with him and uncertain of her role in his world. She is confused by his fascination with the creatures of the wood, and especially the foxes that she knows in her heart are harbingers of danger. She sees him slipping away and is determined to win him back from the wild … for all that she has her own fox-related secret.

Magic binds them all. And in the making (and breaking) of oaths and honors, the patterns of their lives will be changed forever.

What I Thought About It . . .

You must realize that one of my great weaknesses is Japanese legends, especially anything relating to foxes because one must accept the fact that foxes are wonderful. I own a book that is a collection of Japanese myths and legends, but the stories about foxes are among my favorites in the book.

One of the first things which struck me while reading this novel was the lyrical quality to the prose. Beautiful pretty much sums it up in a word. And each of the three narrators has a different feel to their account of the events. Kitsune’s diary covers the past, Yoshifuji’s notebook tells of the present, and Shikujo’s pillow book seems like a kind of dissociated identity, almost like it’s not happening to her. At least that’s how it seems at first because she likes to refer to herself as “one” but then later on she adopts “I” more frequently. Still it seems that “one” is often spoken when she’s at the country estate so maybe it has to do with location? Or perhaps I am looking into unintential things too much. It’s not a consistent thing, so I’m probably just reading too much into it.

Despite the pretty prose, there’s not really a whole lot of action going on in the story. The lives of the nobles seem quite dull… and makes me glad I am not one of them. The foxes provide the only practical sense in the inane activities of humans. It seems a tragedy that love destroys Kitsune in this manner. And for some reason the idea of the fox-magic conjuring all those servants and other people made it less enjoyable for me. I’m not sure why.

I don’t really see what the appeal of Yoshifuji is for Kitsune and her brother. What is there to fall in love about this man? The irony is that the character ponders this himself with the question, “Why me?” Apart from the fact that he does not wish the foxes to be killed, I don’t really see many endearing traits to recommend him as an amorous interest. I know that I certainly wouldn’t wish to give up being a fox to be human for him. Yes, I definitely could have done with a better object of Kitsune’s desire.

I think overall I would have liked this book better had it been written more for young adults. I think that something short and sweet would have done well for the fantasy element to this legend. At times it seemed a bit too long… and perhaps too much emphasis on sex. If you have qualms about homosexuality, I would avoid it. I suppose that I wanted to care more about the characters, and I still don’t quite understand the obsession Kitsune should have with poetry since it is of no consequence to a fox, even one masquerading as a human. I guess I was hoping for more… well, more.



3 thoughts on “Review: The Fox Woman

  1. Whew, I just saw this book at a book sale and I almost bought it. I remembered it from something, but I couldn’t remember if it was recommended for or against. I didn’t buy it and now I’m glad I passed. It doesn’t sound like something I’d like at all. Isn’t it frustrating when the main love interest doesn’t do it for you?

    • I think it would have been better if her love interest were someone more interesting… like a samurai warrior, for example.

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