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I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

"The Woman in the Dunes" by Kobo Abe

This is a Kafkaesque novel. In prose suited to an impartial report this book tells of a teacher whose hobby is entomology. Seeking beetles he comes to a weird sand-bound village near the sea. He spends the night in a house at the bottom of the sand-pit ... and awakes to find he is trapped, condemned to labour digging sand out of the hole he is in. Of course he tries to escape ...

It seems to be a metaphor for life, in which we try to deny the necessities but time sweeps our dreams away and buries them.

This is not a page-turner although, like Kafka, it is very easy to read. It is wonderful because of its profound, though troubling, insight into the human condition, such as:
  • Punishment inflicted ... would mean that a crime had been paid for.” (C 7)
  • "Defeat begins with the fear that one has lost." (C 18)
  • "Time cannot be spurred on like a horse. But it is not quite so slow as a pushcart." (C 19)
  • Obligation is a man's passport among his fellow men” (C 19)
  • Life is a bound diary, and one first page is plenty for one book.” (C 19)
  • More than iron doors, more than walls, it is the tiny peephole that really makes the prisoner feel locked in.” (C 21)
  • One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life.” (C 24)
  • Even flies won't come if you don't advertise.” (C 24)
  • It's an infernal punishment precisely because nothing happens.” (C 25)
  • What was the use of individuality when one was on the point of death?” (C 26)
  • Three days a beggar, always a beggar they say.” (C 28)
  • The fish you don't catch is always the biggest.” (C 28)
  • Patience itself was not necessarily defeat. Rather, defeat really began when patience was thought to be defeat.” (C 28)
As well insight he has some grotesquely original descriptions. I don't think I'll ever forget the boiled gristle or the taste of ear wax:
  • The man answered her with eyes in which time had ceased to run.” (C 20)
  • A strong smell like boiled gristle surrounded her.” (C 20)
  • He had dozed off for a moment, rolling over in the sweat and secretions which smelled like rancid fish oil.” (C 21)
  • His vocal cords were shredded like strands of dried squid” (C 21)
  • Maybe even a human being could sing such a song ... If tongs were driven into his nose and slimy blood stopped up his ears ... if his teeth were broken one by one with hammer blows, and splinters jammed into his urethra ... if a vulva were cut away and sewn onto his eyelids.” (C 22)
  • There was nothing that tasted so good as one's own ear wax ... it was better than real cheese.” (C 24)
  • Suddenly a sorrow the colour of dawn welled up in him.” (C 27) 
And there are other great quotes:
  • The village, resembling a cross-section of a beehive, lay sprawled over the dunes. Or rather the dunes lay sprawled over the village. Either way, it was a disturbing and unsettling landscape.” (C2)
  • Things with form were empty when placed beside sand. The only certain factor was its movement; sand was the antithesis of all form.” (C 6)
  • It was like to trying to float a house in the sea by brushing the water aside. You floated a ship on water in accordance with the properties of water.” (C 6) 
  • Rarely will you meet anyone so jealous as a teacher. Year after year students tumble along like the waters of a river. They flow away, and only the teacher is left behind, like some deeply buried rock at the bottom of the current. Although he may tell others of his hopes, he doesn't dream of them himself.” (C 11)
  • It only happened in novels or movies that summer was filled with dazzling sun. What existed in reality were humble, small town Sundays ... ... little scenes everyone has seen in the corner of some trolley ... people's pathetic jealousy and impatience with others’ happiness.” (C 14)
  • Why did places where animals live have such an unpleasant smell? Wouldn't it be fine if there were animals that smelled like flowers!” (C 24)
In the end, there is a sense of defeat: “They might as well lick each other's wounds. but they would lick forever, and the wounds would never heal, and in the end their tongues would be worn away.” (C 27)

Very thought-provoking. November 2018; 240 pages

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