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From Saturday's Guardian, David Mitchell on Kobo Abe's superb novel The Woman in the Dunes (Penguin Classics):


Sand permeates the novel like a third major character. Sand gets in the food, the house, in clothes, into clocks. It is while brushing sand off each other's bodies that the man and the woman are ushered into sex. The sand of these dunes, laden with dampness, does not preserve but rots everything it touches: wood, leather, fabric, "morality". Like time itself, "Sand not only flows, but this very flow is the sand". To combat its voracity is what requires hapless men to be held captive in the first place. Sand is the prison: literally, symbolically; and not just for the man. We, too, are down in this burning sandpit. We, too, must spend a lifetime doing a job as meaningless (to the universe at large, if not to ourselves) as shovelling never-ending deposits of sand into buckets, getting nothing for our pains but the barest essentials. As we read about the man's predicament, existentially speaking, we are reading about our own ... Maybe, maybe, maybe ... While working on this novel Abe was expelled from the Japanese Communist party for "Trotskyite deviation", and it is possible that in this novel the writer wished to eschew moral absolutes and certainties in order to suggest that no dogma, interpretation and no authorial intention is immune to the transforming effects of the future, as it inches towards us like a sea of dunes.

And once you've read the book (which you absolutely must: this is a wonderful, creepy, unsettling read: existentialist; intelligent; surreal) make sure you get hold of Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 film of the book, Suna no onna, which, memorably painted in expressionist shadows, is erotic and disturbing.

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