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The Pillow Book: Series 1-11

A Full-Cast Historical Crime Drama
Length: 13 hrs and 16 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (86 ratings)

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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

What members say

Average customer ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

18 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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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    3 out of 5 stars
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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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    5 out of 5 stars
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I was transfixed from beginning to end!!

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

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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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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    1 out of 5 stars

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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    5 out of 5 stars
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Love story in old Japan

Story telling with fine tranquil poetry and custom, love and betrayal in a old Japan palace, just lovely.

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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.

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delightful

beautiful acting, the spoken words perfect. sad the cast changed but shonagon is just superb

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    4 out of 5 stars

Gorgeously acted drama

Listening, younger the impression you are sat on the other side of a screen door, eavesdropping on the men and women of the imperial court.

Shonagon herself is not instantly likeable, but as time passed I became more and more invested in her story. It felt real.

a great audio book for sleepless nights.

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  • Mellissa K
  • 08-05-19

Sublime.

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

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Laura G. Marcantoni
  • 26-02-19

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.

5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Robin A. Gower
  • 08-10-19

Magical story

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

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anne
  • 01-10-19

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.

3 people found this helpful