In April I was at a conference on ‘The Fairy Tale after Angela Carter’ and I was fortunate enough to meet up with Marc Sebastian-Jones from Macclesfield who lives and works in Tokyo, teaching English at university. We talked at some length about Japanese literature, specifically about Murakami (both of them) and the new generation of writers, such as Natsuo Kirinoand Hitomi Kanehara. He told me that to fully appreciate where these new writers were coming from, then I had to read some of the clasics of twentieth-century Japanese literature. It seemed like sensible advice and he insisted that I start with Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes.
Having read it I can see exactly what he meant and certainly you can start to see where the influence of Kafka and surrealism comes in. The book concerns an entymologist who goes off to a remote village in the dunes in search of a rare insect. He finds himself imprisoned by the villagers in a house with a young widow, unable to escape by climbing up the fragile dunes and destined to spend all night clearing the house of the sand that falls on it all day long. It tells of his despair and growing acceptance of (and dependence on) his situation. It reminded me very strongly of Kafka’s The Trial with the same strong mythological echoes. Reading this has certainly informed my reading of other Japanese literature, so thanks, Marc, for the advice.