Haruki Murakami might be the one with a novel called Kafka on the Shore, but with ‘The Woman in the Dunes,’ Abe beat him to everything but. Dazzlingly original, Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes is one of the premier Japanese novels in the twentieth century, and this Penguin. The Woman in the Dunes, by celebrated writer and thinker Kobo Abe, combines the essence of myth, suspense and the existential novel. After missing.

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This is my year of horrible reading. I am reading the classics of horror fiction during the course ofand each week will write about a significant work in the genre.

You are invited to join me in my annus horribilis. During the course of the year — if we survive — we will have tackled zombies, serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and monsters of all denominations.

Check back each week for a new title I cringe whenever a character falls asleep and the story moves into slumber time.

The narrative now lacks motivation, drive and worst of all consequences. Life imitates art, huh? On the other hand, I am fascinated by a certain school of modern fiction in which the whole story possesses a dreamlike quality. Anything might happen, but there will be no soothing return to reality, no awakening to dispel the demons.

The author takes us to some hitherto unknown border- land, duness the sober reality of the fully alert mind and the hallucinatory regions of our subconscious psyche. Any account of the history of dreamlike fiction needs to acknowledge the importance of Edgar Allan PoeH.

Lovecraft and other literary masters of the nascent horror genre. Even so, Franz Kafka stands out as the seminal figure in exploring the broader possibilities of this approach, woamn in works such as The Castle and The Trial a tone and ambiance that was less easy to pin down. Yes, an element of horror was palpable, but you could also read these works as political commentaries, existential fables, or some new surreal style of writing that we have learned to call Kafkaesque.

Abe ranks among a handful of authors to win both the Yomiuri and the Akutagawa prizes—lucrative honors currently one million yen goes to the winners of each and with great prestige in Japan.

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

Yet even well-read fans of literary fiction in the West womam hardly recognize his name, let alone know his works.

A teacher Niki Jumpei decides to spend his vacation pursuing his hobby of collecting insects. He has aspirations of discovering a new type of beetle, and thus achieving a small dose of distinction.


He decided to focus on sandy terrains, and thus heads off for a different kind of beach vacation, with the catching net, jars and chemicals necessary for his quest. As it turns out, Niki Jumpei will find himself captured and kept, a human specimen trapped in the same environment in which he had hoped to be the collector.

Strangely enough, John Fowles was writing a similar novel, Ih Collectorat virtually the same time as Abe—in both works an entomologist gets caught up in the illegal detention of people.

Abe, in contrast, crosses over into dreamtime, bringing together the most incongruous and implausible elements into a story as shifting and unstable as the dunes it describes, yet presented with a rigor and attention to symbolic valence that never collapses into sheer fantasy or mindless horror.

On his trip, the teacher travels first by train, then bus, dnues finally walks the final stretch to the beach. On his way, he passes a bizarre series of makeshift houses, each sinking deeper and deeper into the sand the closer he approaches the shore. At length, all the houses seemed to be sunk into hollows scooped in the sand.

Late to the Party: Kōbō Abe’s ‘The Woman In the Dunes’

The surface of the sand stood higher than the rooftops. The successive rows of houses sank deeper and deeper into the depressions. The local villagers offer to put him up in one of houses in the sand holes for the night, where an obliging widow will look after him. With no other options, he accepts their offer, and climbs down a rope ladder to the bottom of a deep pit, where he meets the widow, who proves to be a friendly if reticent hostess, and is invited to stay in her fragile, poorly furnished home.

The next day, the rope ladder is missing, and the teacher realizes that the villagers have no intention of letting him leave.

He is expected to help the widow in the endless task dunea removing the sand that accumulates endlessly in holes where the locals live.

The Woman in the Dunes – Wikipedia

The woman, for her part, welcomes his company and assistance, hte shows no interest in helping him escape or in leaving herself. When he refuses to assist in the sand removal and other household chores, the villagers respond by cutting off the supply of water. In time, Jumpei is forced to work and comply, at least superficially, with the demands put on him—yet he continues to plot methods of breaking out of his buried prison cell.


The whole setting is pervaded with a sick surrealism, yet Abe imposes on this nightmare an unflagging rationalism, even a scientific womaan. In a path atypical for a writer, Abe showed an early interest in mathematics, and later pursued studies in medicine. He eventually received a degree in medicine from Tokyo Imperial University, but reportedly did so poorly in kboo studies that he was allowed to graduate only if he promised never to kogo a job as a doctor.

Instead he focused on writing, but his interest in science continued to find an outlet in his insect collecting.

The Woman in the Dunes

In The Women in the DunesAbe repeatedly adopts a clinical perspective more commonly found in a laboratory than a modern novel. His protagonist analyzes the properties of the sand, constructs hypothesizes, builds apparatuses, designs experiments. Yet rather than undermining the Kafkaesque qualities of the story, this attention to logic and detail reinforces the claustrophobia and loneliness of the novel.

Here is the ugly flip side of Cartesian rationality: I think, therefore I am cut asunder. One can construct other approaches to this novel. Yet no single interpretation does justice to this rich work.

Tue so, the story relentlessly forces the reader to apply judgments and principles. Other dream- oriented works settle for smaller effects, teaching us to laugh at the absurdity of the circumstances, but undermining the intensity of the story by the surreal tone. The Woman in the Dunes is not that kind of book. Even after the final page, we are left feeling that, much like the hero of tge story, even if we cannot rise to the challenge, we can hardly walk away.

Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and popular culture. Check out our sister sites: Contact Ted Gioia at tedgioia hotmail. This web site and its sister sites may receive promotional copies of review items and other materials from publisher, publicists and other parties. My Year of Horrible Reading Week kobp Dracula By Bram Stoker Week 2: Carrie By Stephen King Week 5: The Passion According to G.

By Clarice Lispector Week 6: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary By M. Rebecca By Daphne Du Maurier. To purchase, click on image. Abe comes across as the anti-Aesop, the storyteller who insists that we learn from his fable, but in place of ‘the moral of the ave leaves us with only a blank space.