It is not surprising that readers, even if they are devout fans of Kōbō Abe, don’t take to The Face of Another in the same manner as The Woman in the Dunes or some of his other novels. It may be because of the uncomfortable feeling a reader gets being stuck in the narrator’s head for an entire novel (much like Camus’ The Stranger). The story is built on the premise of a wife finding her husband’s notebooks which are filled with solipsistic meanderings, repeated excursuses, counter-arguments directed at her, and endless musings about identity and self. But you can forgive the man — after all, he’s had his face horribly scarred and burned in a laboratory fire. He is isolated and alone, even from his wife. But he has a plan, a carefully schemed revenge, and it starts with getting a new face. Thus, Abe takes us into fascinating exploration of identity and self.
The scientist, who is as scarred psychologically as physically, has it in for his wife. Continue reading
Next up in my run through of the great Post-War Japanese literary giants, is Kōbō Abe. (You can check out my review of Shusaku Endo’s Silence here).
I actually discovered Abe not through his books, but through the films of Hiroshi Teshigahara. The Face of Another, which was adapted by the director from Abe’s novel, is an eerie film, with Tatsuya Nakadai doing a stellar job as the businessman who loses his identity (and his moral self in the process). I then moved on to The Woman in the Dunes, but didn’t think the film worked as well as The Face of Another. The repetition of the lead character’s isolation dragged the film down rather than creating suspense.
The book however is another story…
Abe’s short novel is as gritty as the ever-present sand that permeates the tale, in spite of having no typical aspects of a crime or suspense novel.
To be sure, the story does involve a kidnapping, namely one Jumpei Niki, a schoolteacher and entomologist who travels to a small remote village to collect rare insects from amongst the sand dunes. Having missed the final bus out of town, the locals offer to let him stay the night. They lead him to a deep pit within the dunes, wherein is small wooden cottage and the young widow who lives there. Niki climbs down the roper ladder and like a fly in the web, so he is trapped.