Friday 27 December 2013

Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

Woman in the Dunes


Kobo Abe


Whilst the plot is straightforward, a man visiting a coastal area is tricked into staying overnight, then is illegally detained and made to work, the novel as a whole is not.The plot is thin, that was it in a nutshell, but the novel is rich vivid and thought provoking.

The reader is told only enough about the background of the man to make him plausible and real enough. We know nothing about the woman with whom he shares his predicament, not even her name. We follow his feelings as he realises the true nature of his situation, at first incredulous, amazed by what has happened, then annoyed, then fearful etc. I wonder whether it is the man or the woman who is the central character here, because it is through his changing attitude to his situation that you learn more about him but also about her, as she is uncovered so his emotions towards her and his captivity change from contempt, to pity, to desire, to affection. The man’s emotional turbulence in contrast to his scientific, analytical approach to the study of insects, sand and escape makes for a wondrous interplay between this emotional landscape and landscape of the dunes, both in a visual, geographic and a scientific sense, with his insight into and analysis of sand particle size and fluidity.

One analogy used in the story and told as a reference to a supposed folk song is about the “Round Trip Ticket Blues”. Chapter 23 starts thus,

“Got a one-way ticket to the blues, woo, woo….”

“If you want to sing it, sing it. These days people caught in the clutches of the one-way ticket never sing it like that. The soles of those who have only a one-way ticket are so think that they scream when they step on a pebble. They have had their fill of walking. “The Round-Trip Ticket Blues” is what they want to sing. A one-way ticket is a disjointed life that misses the links between yesterday, today and tomorrow. Only the man who obstinately hangs on to a round trip ticket can hum with real sorrow a song of a one way ticket. For this very reason he grow desperate lest the return half of his ticket be lost or stolen; he buys stocks, signs up for life insurance, and talks out of different sides of his mouth to his union pals ad his superiors. He hums “The One-Way Ticket Blues” with all his might and, choosing a channel at random, turns the television up to full volume in an attempt to drown out the peevish voices of those who have only a one-way ticket and who keep asking for help, voices that come up through the bathtub drain or the toilet hole. It would not be strange at all if “The Round-Trip Ticket Blues were the song of mankind imprisoned.”

Upon finishing this novel I reckon that it is about the change in the man from a Round-Trip Ticket to a One-Way Ticket kind of guy.

I wonder how people who have read this and Emma Donoghue's Room would compare the two?


ashramblings verdict: 4* an unusual, addictive read

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