Mel Staten's Reviews > The Woman in the Dunes

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
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bookshelves: 2016

This was a tough, tough read. I know I said I lost the book a year ago after I started reading it, and I did, but I wonder if part of me unconsciously misplaced it to spare myself.

A man goes into the dunes to continue his research on insects, after which he is taken prisoner by the people of a destitute sand-blown village in order to lessen their workload. Specifically, a lonely woman takes him in. The man is so miserably trapped in this new life that it's hard to read. You feel miserable and claustrophobic with him.

Worse, this man makes it hard to root for him. The amount of near-rapes in this book are fairly astonishing. I understand that the woman is essentially his kidnapper, and I was also expecting a certain amount of misogyny from a male Japanese author, but the man's treatment of the woman is pretty deplorable. For example, in one attempted plan to get the villagers to let him leave, he decides to stop working on digging the village out of the sand, despite knowing that they will stop bringing water. He holes himself and the woman in the house until they both nearly dehydrate to death, and revels in her suffering despite knowing exactly what she is going through.

Moreover, the ending was exactly what I was expecting, and as such it was inherently unsatisfying. The suffering was worth nothing in the end. It paints an intricate picture of a trapped life, and then draws parallels between normal life, deciding that normal life isn't any more free than a life as a prisoner in the dunes.

Just because it was a strain to get through, doesn't make this book bad. It's excellently written, and perfectly conveys what the author intended. It is, as such, exactly the book that it was meant to be. That said, it's not a book I could in good conscience recommend to anyone. Just because it is a beautiful work doesn't make it an experience that everyone needs.

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Reading Progress

July 8, 2013 – Shelved
July 8, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
April 4, 2015 – Started Reading
April 19, 2015 –
page 46
19.09% "Surreal and strange as always, but what I'm especially liking about this Kobo Abe book is that it seems to be unfurling linearly, which makes it a bit easier to digest."
April 3, 2016 –
page 152
63.07% "I had, not kidding, lost this book for many months which is why I haven't updated. Just found it today and had left off at a very intense part."
April 17, 2016 – Finished Reading
April 18, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016

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