Book Depository: Paperback
Niki Jumpei is an amateur entomologist who visits a rural coastal town to search the sand dunes for rare or undiscovered beetle species. The night approaches before Jumpei can catch his bus home so he is forced to seek shelter amongst the villagers. He realises his mistake in trusting them when he finds himself trapped at the bottom of a sand pit with a woman he has never met. He is forced to dig sand and when he refuses he is threatened with dehydration.
Jumpei continuously attempts to free himself of his disturbing situation and even manages to escape at one point, but nothing seems to work. Eventually, he becomes resigned to his tasks and manages to discover a way to extract water from the sand itself. He tells himself this will help him escape, but by the end, does he really intend to escape?
This is a very existential novel. Abe discusses a number of questions about life, love and sex through Jumpei’s inner monologues. The heavy existentialist themes, however, sometimes made the novel feel repetitive. For example, I thought the amount of times sex was discussed was a little excessive, especially as the main character rarely had anything profound to say about it. I became largely desensitised in the end, and glossed over these passages.
The character of Jumpei is extremely unlikable as he appears to believe his importance and comfort are above those of the woman he ends up living with. He even assaults her and ties her up, which epitomises his lack of respect for her. Furthermore, the way he talks about her in his monologues is mildly disturbing and he appears to believe she is not worth as much as him as a human being. All of these factors put together made me unable to root for the main character, and I ended up not particularly caring about the outcome of the novel.
The edition I read included illustrations, which made it easier for me to continue reading through. Had these not been included in order to break up the text, I feel I would have been even more confused by its literary status, as to me, it is somewhat average and has not aged particularly well.
I didn’t hate the book, but I highly doubt I’d reread it in the future. It is definitely on the low side of three stars for me, but I’d recommend it to you if you’re attempting to work your way through the Japanese literary canon, because it is popular amongst other people. There are trigger warnings for assault, kidnap, slavery and violence.
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