The Fox Woman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Left off the New Year’s appointments list at court, Yoshifuji returns to his country estate with his demure wife. Kitsune, watching from her den under the gatehouse, finds him fascinating and longs to be human. Yoshifuji is also drawn to foxes, and when Kitsune manages to become a woman, he lives with her in a den magically turned into a house until a priest enchants him back.

Meanwhile, Yoshifuji’s original wife Shikujo, depressed by the lonely countryside and her inability to break through her husband’s ennui, has left him and returned to the capital. Autumn passes—a few weeks in human terms, ten years in the fox world.

Kitsune, Yoshifuji, and now their son, flourish, pursuing all the elegant activities their position warrants. Garden walks, visits to shrines, exchanging poetry all enhance their lives, until Shikujo comes home again, to find her husband missing. What she sees when Yoshifuji emerges is a half-crazed, half-starved man who has been scrabbling in the dust with foxes.

With its setting as well as story drawn from a ninth century Japanese fairy tale, The Fox Woman is a most unusual fantasy novel. The book is full of wonderful images, which pull the reader deeply into an exotic world of manners and of a nature resonant with meanings. The story is told in small journal and pillow book entries written alternately by the three major characters. Brilliant splashes of poetry decorate the pages. Only at the very end does a touch of modern sensibility peek through, with Yoshifuji and his wife finding a certain peace in self-revelation. Kitsune stays human and decides to make the best of her life, even if need be without Yoshifuji.

This book will seem slow to readers who expect to find “thud and blunder” in their fantasy fiction. But those who like unique settings, atmosphere, and transformations will love it.