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The Box Man

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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  1,869 ratings  ·  152 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
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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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Kimley
Jul 11, 2009 Kimley rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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Mariel
Aug 24, 2011 Mariel rated it 2 of 5 stars
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Marielle
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
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heel grabber
Feb 14, 2008 heel grabber rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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Amy
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
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Tony
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
Jim Elkins
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
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Andrew
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
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David
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).
Carl
if [ellison's] the invisible man and a rollercoaster were to somehow mate, this book would eat their baby.
Hanif
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
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Andrew Bourne
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
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Sonia
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
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S.B.
Dec 13, 2012 S.B. rated it 3 of 5 stars
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.
Ioana Blidar
" 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."
Ipsith
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
Rafa
Una visión japonesa de Bartebly.
Peter
Deciding to up my count of contemporary Japanese literature, I reached back to that quirky “otaku” of sand dune fame (i.e., Woman of the Dunes), to start. First I tried “The Face of Another,” but had trouble caring about the narrator. Was it the dryness of the voice, perhaps, or the choppiness of the thoughts of the narrator? I turned to “The Box Man.” I wish I could say it was better.

It begins as a Dadaist portrait of the life of homeless men, having to make their life in cardboard boxes, but
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Andreea
I am not sure what to say.... I chose two stars, although I think it was better than that....but something stops me from saying I liked it, because, actually, I did not like it. Well, now if you ask me why I didn't like it, this is harder to say...might be the inner literary value, which I don't find out of the ordinary, sometimes even less than oridinary, might be the fuzzy situations and the intention of leaving them as such (a cultivated fuzzyness)... I can imagine it was smth out of the ordi ...more
Taka
Damn--

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.

Damn.

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
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Jim
I wanted to like this more. It was the first book by Abe I’d read (although I had seen the screen adaptation of The Woman in the Dunes). I was expecting something akin to Ian McEwan’s short story ‘Conversation with a Cupboard Man’ (written about the same time) which I read when it was first published as has stuck with me all these years. Never a good thing to do, to start off reading something with high expectations. That said the book started off well. It was going to be a first person narrativ ...more
Bill Johnston
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
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Clint
Oct 25, 2011 Clint rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
Yes yes yes yes yes! This guy does everything right! Though this surrealist book was incredibly hard to follow at times, the all-pervading black paranoia and dread that it's made from never let up, not for one second. Did Kobo Abe kill himself? If not, how did he not? I can't imagine someone living with all this stuff in his head and not constantly on the verge of running screaming through a window on the top floor of a really tall building. My only reason for not giving this 5 stars was it was ...more
Kevin
Another masterpiece from this great Japanese author!

First of all if your looking for a book with an easy to follow narrative this isn't a book for you. The book is split in different sections and in the end your never really sure of the identity of the narrator. Is it the box man? or the fake box man ? We never really know. This book warrants multiple readings to make sense of the narrative. It is split in sections that talk with the first and third person and the narrative also switches from th
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Geoffrey Waring
A man, a doctor, a nurse, and a box. These four elements shift places and perspectives, collectively forming what may win the contest for least reliable unreliable narrator in literary history.

I think this novel needs to be approached with a certain lightness, like one might read an exercise devised by the Oulipo. The mind wants to piece together a coherent narrative, an instinct I suspect Abe was aware of and played with to his advantage; for me, the frustration and disorientation that resulted
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Netizen
I want to give it four stars, but the way the narrative jumps around so much I ended up pretty confused, and not the sort of good confused. So anyway, The Box Man is about... three... four people? A, B, C, D? I don't know. There is the photographer, the fake doctor, the nurse, and the real doctor.

I wanted to give it four stars merely because of the concept. It tackles the themes of our current age of "visual rape" as it is called. The box man is a photographer. Photographers are shielded behind
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Joe
Jan 05, 2012 Joe rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: fiction
It is really difficult to describe how Abe gets away with what he does but he does. Maybe the high concept ideas here, like a narrative told from the perspective of a guy taking notes in a box that he lives in all the time (and aren't we all just living in a box?, MAN), only hold water because of just how naturally the tides of this character's thoughts move, how dynamically The Box Man goes from resolution to irresolution, equivocating, etc.
Hey
The life force of this novel beams straight to the penis of the male reader. And the reader and his penis are assuaged. In the Box Man he has found a kindred soul - an insecure, scared horndog smothering himself in self-loathing and gross fantasy.

With that said, I appreciate the surrealist language, the deadpan humor (“I am not all that perky, but I am not yet a corpse”) and the disjointed structure(I like that sort of thing). I am invested in broad themes like social anxiety, identity bewilder
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Paddythemic
"They say that even in the case of the hermit crab, once it begins its life under its shell, the back part of the body, being covered by the carapace, becomes soft and this breaks into pieces and the crab dies if forced out. A box man can't very well take off his box and simply return to the ordinary world."

started off in the "woman in the dunes" mode yet gradually descended into "ruined map" type confusion. you can say it's intentional or you can say it's laziness - it's just not engaging enoug
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6526
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
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More about Kōbō Abe...
The Woman in the Dunes The Face of Another The Ruined Map Secret Rendezvous Kangaroo Notebook

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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...” 71 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.” 8 likes
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