Book Review: ‘The Box Man’ by Kobo Abe

the box man kobo abe

Icky All Over:

The Box Man by Kobo Abe is a greasy, uncomfortable experience. As the narrator tells of his life as a box man, there is a constant anxiety on the part of the reader, a demand that this man dispense with his illusions and tell how things really happened. To give some evidence that what he describes actually occurred, and was not simply the feverish scribbles of a madman.

I cannot determine whether this work was meant as an experiment, a warning, or a critique. If the point was that we all erect ‘boxes’ between ourselves and the events that constitute reality, if it was to show our secret desire to seclude ourselves within our own narratives, or if Abe simply wanted to present an unusual existential situation. Maybe all of these.

Plastering on the Discomfort:

I find myself at a loss to add much more than what I expressed in the first sentence of this review. I felt the need to shower after each reading, an uncanny drive to prove to myself that order can exist, to prove that I was not myself a box man, growing soiled and detached, building narratives in my head. There is an uncleanliness to the story, one that makes the reader feel that one is in the box with the titular character, engaging in the futile distractions and imaginings that plague the man’s mind.

It is a story filled with the screech of a drying felt pen against cardboard, of damp underwear and salt-crusted toes, of sand in all the wrong places, and urine trickling down your leg. I felt, to a degree, much how I did when reading the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, a witness to a perversion of humanity, one that could be lurking behind the clean, symmetrical, sanitized values and personal discipline’s that we all exhibit, that could overtake you at any moment and you wouldn’t even realize it. As such, it was worth it to add to my list of literary experiences, and in this way it obtains its value but I doubt I’ll touch it again.

I’ll leave it in a garage hallway across the planet, and not think about it anymore.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5