Kobo Abe Is Pretty Great, So Far

Woman-in-the-dunes If you know Kobo Abe, it's probably as the guy who wrote the book that became the movie about a Japanese businessman trapped into a giant hole in the desert, where he is forced to shovel sand and eventually comes to see his prison as his home.

I watched The Woman in the Dunes not too long ago, and now I've gotten on an Abe kick. I'm currently working through The Broken Map, which shares a lot of themes with Dunes: a pervasive sense of futility; the almost imperceptibly gradual but profound transformation of identity; a Kafkaesque ability to generate the binding rules of its universe as the story unfolds.

I'm hungry for more, and next up is what appears to be a truly strange work: The Box Man (whose title is just as literal as you'd like it to be). Just paging through, the book is full of found documents imported whole-cloth, typographical tricks, and a general weirdness that feels both sinister and playful.

Abe seems to really, really be my kind of an author, a very original voice that sounds sort of like Ishiguro, although making Ishiguro appear utterly mannered (except, perhaps, in The Unconsoled, and to a lesser extent Never Let Me Go). That said, I am a bit frightened (albeit in a good way) by Inter Ice Age 4 and would be curious to hear from anyone who has tackled this one.

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Oh, just bizarre.
I finished reading all of his translated works a couple weeks ago and just last night started watching Woman in the Dunes. I didn’t make it through, but it was late and I was exhausted, the film is stunning; if you haven’t watched Pitfall, an earlier movie written by Abe and also directed by Teshigahara, check it out.
I loved the Box Man. It’s strange without losing the emotional/human content, which can easily get passed over in works like Abe’s. It’s also funny, really funny. I’m reminded of David Foster Wallace’s piece on the humor in Kafka. People forget! People don’t notice. Abe is often wildly funny.
The other work that really jumps out for me as being a favorite of his is The Ark Sakura. It’s a little less weird (still, of course, weird) than some of his others, and deals more directly with the post-atomic bomb fear. Oh, and also human failure.
Inter Ice Age 4 didn’t really sit well with me. It felt a bit disjointed and stiff (much like his last work, Kangaroo Notebook). There are sections I loved, parts that really worked, but I struggled to put it together as a whole (which may be my own failure, or could very well be the intention). Either way, it’s worth reading, but is just on of my least favorite works by Abe, whom I really enjoy overall.
I may have more thoughts later, when I am not at work and when I have the books in front of me.

I really liked Secret Rendezvous. Very weird but very good.

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