A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
You can’t really blame schoolteacher Junpei Niki for wanting to keep his entomology hobby on the down low. To judgmental colleagues bug collecting might seem either nerdy or creepy. This reticence comes back to haunt him, though, when he takes a secretive trip to the seaside in the hopes of discovering a new variant of beetle. In a rural village no one knew he was visiting, Junpei is abducted by a woman desperately scratching-out her existence among the dunes. The life he discovers hiding in the sands of Japan’s coast, while not coleopterous, is as fascinating and nightmarish as any insect.
You’ll find few novels as compellingly strange as Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes. Yes, there is some suspense to it, a little bit of action, and more than a hint of erotica, but mostly you’ll turn through its 230 pages in a kind of dream state. The narrative transitions slowly through dense freudian discussions to thrilling escape attempts to existential parable, from scientific info dumps and philosophical musings to sudden violence or misogynist rants. It’s puzzling and wonderful and occasionally disturbing.
A couple of years after it was published in 1962, Kobo Abe helped write a film version of The Woman in the Dunes that has overtaken the novel in popularity. The film (which you can request from our library system here) is beautifully shot and directed. If anything it’s even more hypnotic than the novel. This is very un-librariany of me, but I don’t think you should feel required to read the novel first, as long as you attempt both sooner or later. They’re very different experiences, and each will likely haunt you for some time.
Review by Matthew