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The Box Man

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,524 Ratings  ·  192 Reviews
Kobo Abe, the internationally acclaimed author of Woman in the Dunes, combines wildly imaginative fantasies and naturalistic prose to create narratives reminiscent of the work of Kafka and Beckett.

In this eerie and evocative masterpiece, the nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head
Paperback, 178 pages
Published July 10th 2001 by Vintage (first published 1973)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 11, 2009 Kimley rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: existentialists
A mystery-filled riff on the nature of identity, the significance of the gaze, the nature of looking and being looked upon and how this defines who we are.

The story is told primarily in the first person but we never know exactly who is doing the telling. Is it the box man (a man who, no surprise, lives in a box he has strapped on over his body so he cannot be seen), the fake box man (a doctor who tries on a box for himself and is a wannabe box man) or someone else - perhaps Kobo Abe who is obses
Aug 24, 2011 Mariel rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Thomas Pynchon's lunch sack
Recommended to Mariel by: Donald Keene usually has better taste than this
The Box Man was cancelled by the Atikokan Public Library after men began disappearing and reappearing with boxes over their heads (probably in the young adult section). One less person to read a newspaper on a stick in 1982 was no big thing but in 1987 two people checked out and then checked out. Cancelled is stamped on the title page. Cancelled again on the next, and the next page in case any wives of veterans were tempted to buy a box big enough for their Juice Newton hair-dos. In case any tee ...more
Nate D
Jul 25, 2014 Nate D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: observers, voyeurs, photographers
Recommended to Nate D by: a diary found in a bag beneath the overpass
This is possibly Abe's craziest book, which is really saying something. Not necessarily best, as book:Secret Rendezvous|10004] is crazy AND highly coherent, but the ways in which this is flirts with incoherency are extremely interesting. It's got the odd, broken time-frame diary format of Rendezvous but in actually a more ambiguous and complex manner, while the actual story has been stripped back to what first seems sheer bizarre simplicity, but then becomes an echo chamber of variations. There ...more
May 25, 2007 Marielle rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, translated
This novel messes with your head. Really.

As far as Kobo goes, I prefered Woman in the Dunes for pure entertainment, but the Box Man goes into uncharted territory (whereas Woman in the Dunes grasps at fairly traditional existentialism, albeit from a unique perspective)

Who is the Box Man? Is he one? Two? Three? Everyone? You could read this book a thousand times and still not unravel the mystery. I, of course, have my own opinion, but the beauty of this book is that you just can't stop trying to f
Jim Elkins
Jan 20, 2013 Jim Elkins rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japanese
A strange, dry, inhuman book: just the kind of thing I like. "Box men" are homeless men who walk around inside cardboard boxes. The boxes are fitted out with viewing portholes, little shelves, hooks, and supplies. Three things make this book strange, and the last two also make it bitter, misogynistic, and misanthropic.

1. I read the book because it uses photographs, and I am trying to survey 20th century books that use illustrations in fictional settings. This book has one of the oddest uses of p
May 25, 2009 Amy rated it really liked it
So this book is weird, and I have to confess that I wasn't always exactly sure what was going on...

Mainly the story reads like a journal of a "Box Man" or basically someone who has decided to drop out of society in favor of wearing a cardboard box at all times. However, you can also tell that Abe has a background in science (medicine), because we are given detailed directions at the beginning regarding the construction of the box and specific details about survival methods, as though we were rea
May 10, 2015 Sergei rated it really liked it
A surreal tale about a fragile identity, and a place of the individual in this uncertain world. We are ready to believe the narrator, but before long we are asking who is he and how much can we believe of what he tells?
Was it a real experiment or mystification, fantasies of a troubled mind, or just a dream? There can be numerous interpretations.
heel grabber
Feb 14, 2008 heel grabber rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The young men protecting <i>my</i> freedoms overseas.
Recommended to heel by: Christian Mattson
Shelves: novels, japanese
Kobo Abe made really high quality, surreal fiction. "Japan's Kafka" or whatever,

(IMHO, any critic who resorts to any version or variation of
that fucking meaningless trick ought to be fired for
laziness, then blacklisted for disrespect.)

so if you are into writing serious surreal prose, I'd check him out.

Oh, and I like The Box Man better than Woman In The Dunes; so if you liked WITD and happen to like the same things I like you'll probably prefer this book too.

(Note: That fucking mad-ass t
So much abject horror. I liked Woman in the Dunes more-- it was more straightforwardly existentialist, made a bit more sense to me, retained powerful imagery-- but I still had a lot of fun with this one.

Every image Abe conjures up brings to mind a different nightmarish thing I've encountered: the Japanese horror films of Shinya Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike, Beckett's Endgame, Eraserhead, the music of Throbbing Gristle, the oeuvre of David Cronenberg. Note the overwhelming predominance of films on
Jan 06, 2016 Χρήστος rated it really liked it
Πειραματικό, μπερδεμένο, γοητευτικά μυστηριακό κείμενο. Πρέπει σίγουρα να το ξαναδιαβάσω.
Andrew Bourne
Aug 12, 2008 Andrew Bourne rated it it was amazing
Why have I read this 3 times? People always say it is inscrutable, though must it be scrutable, what is valuable about scrutability anyhow?

Yes, Abe is using a lot of modern fiction devices--compression of time, faulty narrators, plot hiccups, and even some of my personal fiction peeves. But he is sort of a prankster, a rug-puller, a juggler, a humorist, and I appreciate that, especially some of the more wanton chapters towards the end. "The Box Man" is dimensional, there is something spatial abo
May 21, 2008 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I will admit I'm perplexed by this book. There's a lot going on at the same time as there's very little action, and a dense cloud of unarticulated identities. The questions of identity and perception, originating from and reflecting back upon the self as well as piercing one from an outside source, are the central concerns of the story, and in problematizing common conceptions of these ideas, the narrative itself becomes problematic, approaching meta-narrative and introducing other tangential el ...more
արմին վիշապաքաղ
էս կոբոյից տենց էլ գլուխ չհանեցի, չհասկացա ինչ եմ զգում նրա գործերի հանդեպ, բայց միանշանակ ա, որ ինքը դիմում ա հույզերիդ, ավելի ճիշտ՝ զգացումներիդ՝ հենց շատ զգայական֊ֆիզիոլոգիական֊մարմնային ձևով, մասնավորապես՝ հասարակություն֊անհատ, մեկուսացում֊կոնտակտ կոնտինիումի վրա գտնվող զգացումներիդ֊զգացմունքներիդ։ չգիտեմ մարդ կգտնվի՞ որ աբե կարդալուց սուր չզգա էդ հակասությունը ու կոնֆլիկտը հենց իր մեջ։ բայց չեմ կարող ասել, թե դուրս եկավ կամ չեկավ, դուր գալու կամ չգալու բան չէր
Jul 22, 2011 Taka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

J-Lit Binge #11: The Box Man by Kobo Abe.

This is another masterpiece from Kobo Abe. In its sheer metafictional ingenuity, it probably surpasses Nabokov's Lolita, Danielewski's House of Leaves, and other tricksters of modernism.


Seemingly, it's a story about a man wearing a cardboard box getting involved in a mysterious series of events involving a beautiful nurse he falls in love with, a fake doctor who wants to become the new box man, and a real doctor who is a drug addict and who is
Jul 07, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: big-red-circle
I liked this much more than I expected. I planned to say something like "Kobo, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can't read it." But I found that I could. There's two or three really good bits amongst a very tolerable amount of po-mo bullshit (writing upside down, photographs, characters arguing over who is writing the story, etc).
Dec 13, 2012 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: nippon
The problem of being looked at. Gazed upon. I wish Kobo Abe had been a feminist.

Overall, I found it too conceptual to actually like.

By chance, I happened to be handling a lot of boxes during the course of reading this and I have to say they're difficult to resist. They kind of want to be placed over the head.
Jun 18, 2015 Brandon rated it it was amazing
I've watched all five of Teshigahara's films of Kobo Abe's stories, so picked this up as supplementary identity-crisis deleted-scene. One quick airplane-bound reading later, The Box Man reigns as the best, most insane Abe story, the excellent films knocked down to second place.
Manik Sukoco
Dec 30, 2015 Manik Sukoco rated it it was ok
It is an odd tale, and thus far the worst of Abe's books that I’ve read. It’s not that this is in any way a bad book, (although incoherent at times) but the characters are lifeless and the narrative leaves one cold. Also, it is a bit of a disappointing follow up to his great novel The Woman in the Dunes, which happens to be one of the best books I’ve ever read by any writer.
Translated by E. Dale Saunders, The Box Man lacks some of the lyrical highs present in some other Abe books, and the story
Jun 21, 2015 Steve rated it it was ok
The fact that all I do now is sit in the corner with no clothes on inside a box must be some testament to this book's literary power, but it's driving my wife and kid bonkers.

Otherwise, three stars.
Oct 25, 2007 Carl rated it it was amazing
if [ellison's] the invisible man and a rollercoaster were to somehow mate, this book would eat their baby.
Jan 23, 2013 Hanif added it
Shelves: english
ada pendapat yg mengatakan penulisan Kobo Abe sealiran Kafka, Beckett dan entah siapa-siapa lagi. dari segi surrealism, mungkin aku bersetuju.

cerita yg watak utama tidak diberitahu namanya kepada pembaca memilih cara hidup yang solitari - seorang lelaki yang hidup di dalam kotak, terasing dari masyarakat dan memadam identitinya. agak lemas juga bila aku bayangkan aku sebagai watak itu, mungkin sebab aku bukan box man yang 'real'.

membaca novel ini seperti membaca jurnal seseorang. ada sedikit th
At the onset, I was charmed. I thought I was going to enjoy this book, but then something happened. While in a fugue state, I took a hit of acid or od'd on hallucinogenic shrooms because I seriously don't know what the fug else happened in the book. (Let's set aside the fact that it's seriously sad that whilst in said fugue state, rather than going out and accidentally killing a hooker, I read instead.)

I'm getting visuals of skinny girl legs pumping a bicyle, an empty box under a bridge, two bo
Bill Johnston
Jul 07, 2015 Bill Johnston rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
I divide surrealism into two types, because I enjoy one and can't empathize with the other. It all comes down to the beginning: if it starts out somewhat (even facetiously) normal and grows progressively more bizarre and nonsensical, I can see myself caught in it. If it is all symbolic from the get-go, then it never pulls me in.

The Box Man (my internet handle of choice) starts facetiously, describing how to live your life on the street in a box, spying on others. The main character is one such i
Stephen Durrant
Apr 29, 2015 Stephen Durrant rated it liked it
I am a longtime admirer of Abe's "Woman in the Dunes" and decided it is time to read another of his novels. This is a much more difficult read. Somehow I suspect a second reading would result in one or two more stars. I now seem to have reached an age where my mind requires at least two readings to deal with works as dream-like (or maybe we should say "nightmarish") and narratively complex as this one. "The Box Man" strikes me as a meditation on the terror of being seen--voyeurism as more natura ...more
Richard Yu
Dec 10, 2015 Richard Yu rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ioana Blidar
Feb 13, 2011 Ioana Blidar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
" Zambetele ei pareau cioplite dintr-o bucata de aer impietrit peste care a trecut totusi o pensula de lumina, atat de efemere si totusi lipsite de aparare, incat am avut impresia ca i-am facut, fara sa vreau, si o declaratie de dragoste."
Mar 06, 2016 Siranush rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
մի ամբողջ տարի ձգվեց գիրքը...էն գրքերից ա, որ չես ուզում` շուտ ավարտես, ձգձգում ես, մտածում ես, վերլուծում...մտքերս ամբողջ ընթացքում խառն էին. չէի հասկանում իրականություն ա, մտքեր, ում դեմքից ա խոսում, ինչ ի նկատի ունի.... շատ հավանեցի: ...more
Jun 20, 2016 Adam rated it it was amazing
Abe at his discordant best, The Box Man contains a main narrative, sub narratives and those that may appear related and unrelated, a meditation on identity and perhaps on the subtle loss of it's authenticity, the book slides into territories at times that feel out of reach to the reader, but Abe does it so well, and after putting the book down it can feel very much like you are looking back at a collage of narratives, some fitting, some detached, the completed and uncompleted. Very much enjoyed ...more
Jan 03, 2014 Ipsith added it
Shelves: favorites
Social anxiety often appears in Abe’s work as allegory, but it’s never so temporal as to strand the reader in anything other than recognition of the submersion of the character in not only his surroundings, but his ability to parse them. The Box Man is another great example of Abe’s ability to stretch a ridiculous premise into art. Here, a guy decides to join the quasi homeless and start living inside a box on the street. What seems an impulsive decision leads to a series of events that strand t ...more
May 16, 2013 Rafa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Una visión japonesa de Bartebly.
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Kōbō Abe, pseudonym of Kimifusa Abe, was a Japanese writer, playwright, photographer and inventor.

He was the son of a doctor and studied medicine at Tokyo University. He never practised however, giving it up to join a literary group that aimed to apply surrealist techniques to Marxist ideology.

Abe has been often compared to Franz Kafka and Alberto Moravia for his surreal, often nightmarish explor
More about Kōbō Abe...

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“When I look at small things, I think I shall go on living: drops of rain, leather gloves shrunk by being wet...When I look at something too big, I want to die: the Diet Building, or a map of the world...” 96 likes
“I personally feel that a box, far from being a dead end, is an entrance to another world. I don't know to where, but an entrance to somewhere, some other world.” 11 likes
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