I’m currently about a third through Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’, which tells the story of the various family members who have at one time owned a collection of over 240 netsuke that have since passed into Edmund’s hands.
As I’m fascinated with all things Japanese (see my earlier post about ‘kudos’), I’m more interested in the netsuke than the family saga – and I wish upon wish that I could see pictures of all 246 netsuke. About nine netsuke have been photographed for the book – and the best I could find on the web was this seven picture collection that appeared in The Guardian.
The reason I’ve chosen to write about de Waal’s book is he keeps dropping in words that I don’t understand, dagnabbit.
The word ‘netsuke’ itself – I know (sort of) what a netsuke is and common sense dictates the word is Japanese in origin. The OED gives its origin as “to attach a root”, which makes sense as netsuke were a type of toggle, used to fasten. Interestingly, the first recorded use of the word in English is 1876, in a Victoria and Albert catalogue. So around 20 years after Japan opened its border to trade with the West, ‘netsuke’ had already become collectors’ items, worthy of being exhibited in the finest museums.
Another word of which de Waal is extremely fond is ‘flaneurial’. This seems to be a unique coinage as I can’t find it in any other dictionary – and to be honest, the only thing Google throws up is another blogger also commenting on de Waal’s excessive usage. The word ‘flaneur’ does appear in English, with its meaning derived directly from the French, flâneur, a ‘loafer’ or a ‘stroller’. This noun is in turn derived from the verb flâner – “to stroll”. De Waal uses ‘flaneurial’ to describe one of his ancestors, the first to own the netsuke, who was very much a man about town, and was sufficiently wealthy to pursue a lifestyle as an art collector and critic.
A second head-scratcher I came across in the book was ‘lambent’. I had no idea what this meant – but the dictionary suggests it’s an adjective that effectively conveys the sense of a flickering light. It’s a pretty obscure word, and if you google it, you’ll find the first few pages are either dictionary listings or are things like design firms or war-gaming sites, where people often enjoy antiquated language.
So one third of the book down, and two new words. I’m sure there will be many more to go before the end!
- Edmund de Waal: A life in arts (guardian.co.uk)
- The Hare with Amber Eyes favourite to win Costa Book Award (telegraph.co.uk)
- Costa winner Edmund de Waal on objects that tell a story (telegraph.co.uk)