At first, one might not think this novel is a happy one, but i found it a satisfying read, and although there was much sadness in the novel, there is a quiet joy in this fictionalization of the life of the world's first novelist. The novel is from ten years ago, but that hardly matters in this case.
Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world's first novel in the early 11th century, by writing tales to entertain her friends and other women of the imperial court. She may have finished it as much as a thousand years ago (she is thought to have died in 1014). The result, The Tale of Genji
, remains to this day the most popular novel in Japanese history.
Liza Dalby is an American anthropologist, and now novelist, who has always specialized in Japanese culture. The Tale of Murasaki
(clickity-click!) is Dalby's speculative novel of the life of Murasaki Shikibu, whose real name is not known, although some think she may have been Fujiwara Takako. The Fujiwara were a powerful, influential clan who often served as regents for the emperors, and whoever she was, her father was known as an erudite scholar in the Chinese language (the Japanese then wrote in Chinese, or in Japanese using Chinese charactes). Not only was it not common for women to learn to read (which meant learning Chinese), it was frowned upon, and writing was scandalous . . . to men.
Whatever the case, Murasaki's father taught her Chinese, and how to write both Chinese and Japanese using the Chinese characters. She followed her father to his postings in what were, to her and others close to the court, remote, barbaric cities, and so was not married until she was in her mid 20s, very unusual in a society in which 14 or 15 was the more common age for marriage. She had a daughter and was a widow two years later. It was at about that time that she began to write her tales, and to read them to her friends, and ladies of the imperial court. Eventually, she became a lady-in-waiting to the Empress (and hence the identification as a Fujiwara--there weren't very many literate women in Japan at all, never mind in the imperial court). It is thought she received the invitation, a high honor, because of her reputation as a writer.
The novel is full of the hardship of people's lives--even sheltered women from powerful clans did not lie down each night in a bed of roses, especially a thousand years ago. But the novel is never depressing, and has the quiet triumph of a difficult life, well lived, and the fulfillment of one's modest ambitions.
I really think you would like it, and that reading it would make you happy.