Sorry about the poor quality photo, but the cover of this book isn't exactly the most vibrant in the world. Both Kobo Abe's writing and the cover, however, both speak volumes through their seemingly dull appearance. The Woman in the Dunes is hardly the most inspirational title, but it captures the essence of the writing in this novel. It plainly states things, but has a multitude of meanings behind. Take the title itself for example: the book really is about a woman in some sand dunes, but it's also about the struggle of women in general, and the exclusive state of modernity, which does leave some people fending themselves in the outskirts or "dunes" of modern life.
This book grew on me. At first I had no interest in hearing about the confused plight of Niki Jumpei, insect enthusiast, who gets trapped in a village in the sands whilst trying to find a new breed of beetle. His incessant whining and refusal to accept that he had been trapped against his will, got very irritating very quickly. However, like the infuriating buzz of an insect, I suppose, once you paid more attention to the situations in the book they became much more interesting.
Niki enters this barren environment and comes across a village that remains in the sand dunes. As sand is always moving, more like a liquid than a solid, continual work must be done in order to preserve the houses in the village. He is invited to spend the night in one, in a supposed act of hospitality from the villagers, but once he goes down into what is effectively a hole in the sands with a house and a woman in it, he finds it is far harder to escape than he'd ever imagined ...
According to TIME magazine, The Woman in the Dunes is a "haunting Kafkaesque nightmare". Having read Metamorphosis I can say that I entirely agree with this comment. The sense of the uncanny in this book was astounding. This book was probably one of the scariest I've ever read. I'm not talking about gore or horror as such (and I've had my fair share of those kind of books - anyone else love the "Goosebumps" set as a kid?), but actual nightmarish terror. We've all had those dreams in which we're running or climbing and we just can't escape. We think we're making progress, but we're not, and eventually a sense of panic overcomes us. This scenario is played out over and over again for Niki, but this time it isn't a dream.
Even though Niki is the main character, the woman in the dunes is far, far more interesting. The fact that she isn't named struck me: she has no name because Niki, who pretty much controls the narrative, never asks her. He's happy enough to blame her for his struggles and to have sex with her, but connecting with her on an emotional or personal level? Pffft, why would be bother? I think this raises a lot of issues about gender relations in the modern world, and how we should deal with sex. Having said that, I've been researching the Communist Manifesto at the moment (for uni, it's hardly my idea of a "fun read"), and it made me think about the impact of capitalism on the world of the novel. So, if you're going to read it, it adds just that bit of extra depth to the meaning of the book if you do think about that.
Have you read it? What did you think?