Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes

So, I've been absent from this brand new blog for a while. I've been on a lovely vacation down the California coast and since I've been back, I've been scrambling to put together two new syllabi for freshman composition. Ugh.

Well, Kobo Abe was the first in my TBR A to Z self challenge. I actually finished the book about two months ago, so bear with my scanty review. Abe's book is beautiful and it gives an interesting retelling of the traditional tale of the existential novel: man is stuck in horrifying circumstances that appear totally random but eventually realizes along with the reader that those very circumstances are the condition of all humanity.

I found this book really trying because the situation of this particular character seems so awful, yet so escapable. The Kafkaesque village in the dunes that the man stumbles upon while on a day excursion, bug hunting, ends up taking him prisoner. He is forced day after day to shovel away the ceaseless ocean of sand that threatens to envelop the village.

I found it interesting that the story is framed as a murder mystery, beginning: "One day in August a man disappeared." The contrast between the world he disappears from and the world he becomes a part of, is a stark one. There are also some kind of fabulous illustrations throughout the text.

Bottom Line: If you are a big fan of existential literature, or of the stark minimalism and beauty of Japanese writers, check out Abe. At times, the book can be tedious and dry (no pun intended), but the strange beauty of the prose and the horrifying nature of the character's situation are the novel's redemption.


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