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Publisher's Summary

A thriller and love story set in 10th-century Japan. 

Lady Shonagon is an imperial courtesan, living at the court of the Japanese Emperor in the 10th century. When a series of disturbing thefts within the palace walls throws the court into confusion and unrest, Shonagon is appointed guide and assistant to Lieutenant Yukinari as he investigates. 

Together, Shonagon and Yukinari must solve the mysteries and escalating crimes that plague the Japanese court, and their romance blossoms in the tightly enclosed world behind the high palace walls. But soon Shonagon's lover Tadanobu becomes uncomfortable with how closely they are working together....

The Pillow Book is inspired by the writings of Sei Shonagon, a poet and lady-in-waiting to the empress of the 10th-century Japanese court. The work of the real-life Sei Shonagon consists of essays, lists, anecdotes, poems, and descriptive passages about her daily life. 

This full-cast drama stars Ruth Gemmell as Sei Shonagon, with Yukinari played by Mark Bazeley in series 1-3 and Cal Macaninch in series 4-11. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Tadanobu in series 1. 

Directed by Lu Kemp.

©2018 BBC Worldwide Ltd (P)2018 BBC Worldwide Ltd

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What listeners say about The Pillow Book: Series 1-11

Average Customer Ratings
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

British voices in an ancient Japanese story? Why??

I have read, and taught the original work, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonogan, and I enjoyed this fictional take; but why use British actors rather than Japanese? Was jaring and felt appropriative.

10 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Too much of a good thing.

The book is great up to chapter twenty something. Each chapter begins with musings that could come from the real "Pillow book" and that are interesting and witty and the plots are nice to and pleasant to listen but the chapters from twenty onwards are too contrived to be enjoyable with the notable exception of the final ones. In the least episode the Palace Lady's life takes an interesting turn and the story becomes much more interesting, at least as far as she is concerned, I find the other brother persona far-fetched and, as a consequence, boring.

7 people found this helpful

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Sublime.

The story and the cast are superb, and the prose is an ethereal delight. Ruth Gemmell is a triumph.

5 people found this helpful

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Magical story

A mystery, a love story, a comedy of manners and a window into the different pace of courtly life. Slow and enthralling.

2 people found this helpful

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Remarkable dramatisation

A BBC dramatisation of a historical work. Remarkable voices: Empress Taisho (a very enticing voice), Emperor (voice changes as he ages) and wolf girl.
Japanese names mostly unbrutalised. Only thing is "come by" (かんばい ) sword wich should be pronounced as "cum-bah-i". Like kampai (cheers) with a "b". The word means "plum blossom viewing". During my brief search online I didn't find a famous maker of old associated with the name.
Also some European influences present that were not in Japan. Like horse drawn cart and vine. Horses were bred for cavalry and carts/waggons/carriages were for war purposes only. Much later, in Tokugawa period they even required signed paper work in order to move them and not start a war at the same time. Shonagon could not ride a cart to her brother's. Rather a palanquine with a procession of "porters".
The wine (not sake) was introduced through the Portuguese later.
Very well writen. I gave it full ranking. I do recommend. :)

1 person found this helpful

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Fabulous historic romance novel

After reading the short description I thought this would be a crime drama. I did not find this to be true. Certainly, there were crimes, but this was written as a bit of history, not with the crime as a central theme. To me, this novel was a romantic espionage and period piece. It is fascinating and well narrated. As for the romance, the actors were so into their parts that I felt like a peeping Tom.

1 person found this helpful

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Beautiful story, horrible sound engineering

Great story, great actors, horrible sound engineering... One minute loud, next minute unintelligible whispers

1 person found this helpful

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  • Highlight
  • 07-19-18

True Sei Shonagon‘s Diary from 10th Century Japan

A finely produced well acted drama from the diary of Sei Shonagon a Lady in Waiting at Court in 10th Century Japan. Over eleven hours of entertainment. Well out of my usual comfort zone but still interesting, Everything is here; corruption, love, jealousy,murder & social injustice, truth, lies, and mind games. A journey about life, strength of mind, thought and belief set in the claustraphobic world of the Heian culture a thousand years ago in 965. A lot to get ones teeth into, mind working and exercised. Not for everyone and not something for relaxing. Different. I am now reading Sei Shanogans diary “The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon”. Fascinating being able to read the thoughts of and life experience seen through the eyes of a woman who lived a thousand years ago.

19 people found this helpful

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  • IvoryMarri
  • 01-07-19

Absolutely enthralling and so beautiful.

The cast are exceptional and the story is a magical mirror viewing into imperial Japan. I wish there was a sequel!

6 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-12-18

perseverance furthers 👎

or not in this case. I note that this was issued in a series of 11 which probably accounts for the sheer length and tedium. I dragged myself to the bitter end with no reprieve which is probably why I am so irritated as I paid full price.

it may have Benedict Cumberbatch but the heroine was read on a flat dreary monotone which still haunts me.

if you like Japanese poetry or lists you might like this book as it is stuffed with the stuff, 11 series worth. did I mention the plot? forgotten it already. no, I will not listen to it again. yes, it will be binned.

PS try Judge Dee




4 people found this helpful

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  • Gill Thorpe
  • 03-07-20

I was transfixed from beginning to end!!

This is a beautiful story , told beautifully about a Japanese courtly lady and her relationships and experiences.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • GregorysMode
  • 07-31-19

quaint at first but her lists become indulgent

good good overall but her lists become extremely self-indulgent and the story very good at the beginning and ok in the middle becomes very unrealistic and slightly strange at the end the acting is very good good though the characters change two different actors Midway through the drama which is a shame because I connected really well with the first detective overall for me me 6 and a half out of 10

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jeffrey Slater
  • 08-20-18

starts well enough...

but becomes increasingly tedious fading to nothing. listen to the first half and then stop

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sue ONeil
  • 12-30-19

Takes you into their world

Superb performances, transports you into the world of the palace life of Japan in the past. The rigid rules of behaviour and relationships define every aspect of the characters lives and the separation of the life of the palace and the rest of the world is truly stunning. Great story lines, well acted and satisfactorily realised made these a very enjoyable listen.

1 person found this helpful

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  • A
  • 03-09-19

Just loved this

I picked up on the broadcasts of this about half way through - and was completely smitten with a story interspersed with moments of mindfulness - before that was invented. So wonderful to be able to hear those earlier instalments for the first time, then hear the whole sequence. I loved the use of Scottish voices for the outside the palace people - worked really well. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Adrienne P. Ryan
  • 04-12-22

Engaging story and acting

The hours flew by listening to this. Really enjoyed the whole story. Unusual and lived the insight into Palace life. Was a tad disappointed with the end as it felt a bit rushed.

Acting was good and the emotions of the various relationships came across well.

I’m just thankful I wasn’t around during those times.

I’d recommend if you like romance mingled with a bit of Japanese history

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  • Sandy
  • 10-09-21

One of my all time favourites

A fascinating glimpse into the life of ancient Japan, brought to vibrant life through the eyes of the Lady Shonagon, court lady and poet.

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  • Dr She D’Montford
  • 08-15-20

Well done- but who are the cast?

Brilliant production, Wonderful music, poetry and atmosphere- but if you are expecting a book of the ground-breaking erotic Peter Greenway movie you will be disappointed. It is very different but beautiful in its own right. It’s anachronistic modern English accented depictions of traditional Japan characters makes one want to know who the cast is that have so admirably executed such a different and difficult task. I would like to know more about the production and cast... Why is it impossible to find a Printed list of the full cast and crew? I expect that the cast are not happy that they are missing out on being publicly credited.