Kangaroo Notebook

( 1 )

Overview

In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan's most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. The narrator of Kangaroo Notebook wakes on morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe's unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the ...

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Overview

In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan's most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. The narrator of Kangaroo Notebook wakes on morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe's unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the very shores of hell. Abe has assembled a cast of oddities into a coherent novel, one imbued with unexpected meaning. Translated from the Japanese by Maryellen Toman Mori.

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Editorial Reviews

Megan Harlan

"Which situation should I declare 'real' and which one a 'dream'?" That's the question that plagues the narrator of The Kangaroo Notebook, who, after awakening to discover radish sprouts growing out of his shins, embarks on an eerie adventure -- in a world that seems increasingly hostile and mysterious -- to get rid of them. The question, however, might equally plague the reader of this surreal, playful and almost unassailably enigmatic novel, the final to be written by the late Kobo Abe, a former finalist for the Nobel Prize for Literature and one of Japan's foremost modern writers.

The plot is a weird and wild ride. After discovering his bizarre metamorphosis, the unnamed narrator checks into a dermatology clinic, where he meets a hostile but attractive nurse he dubs Damselfly and is administered a lot of drugs. Still strapped to his hospital bed and hooked up to an I.V., he is unceremoniously discharged. Visits to a glossy department store, a cabbage field that is home to the narrator's dead mother and Damselfly's apartment introduce spooky characters, like Mister Hammer Killer, an American karate expert whose love of violence lands the narrator once again in the hospital, and members of the "Help Me! Club," which consists of chanting children. Damselfly herself turns out to be a bit of a vampire. The peculiar finale nevertheless makes some sense under these strange fictional circumstances.

What does it all add up to? The swift-moving barrage of morbidly fascinating images, characters and places refract cleverly recurring themes (like the meaning of kangaroos,vampires, and those radish sprouts); while the heightened, almost hysterical vein of humor is balanced by deadpan lines like, "Something's really odd." As is often the case with surrealistic fiction, much of the strangeness supplants traditional story and character development, and thus may fail to compel readers emotionally. But as a romp through uncharted metaphysical territory -- the razor-thin line between life and death -- Abe has created a masterful, dizzyingly inventive tale. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
. . .outlandish shenanigans. . . .grisly surrealism. . .(starred review)
Kirkus Reviews
The final novel by the late Japanese surrealist author of such Kafkaesque contrivances as The Woman in the Dunes and The Box Man. It's the hallucinatory account of its unnamed narrator's undiagnosed illness (radish sprouts grow out of his body) and hospitalization, during which he experiences, or fantasizes, a series of Alice-in-Wonderland-like adventures: a journey by hospital bed along a 'river of fire' where he's harassed and befriended by 'child-demons'; meetings with a sensual nurse collecting blood samples, a ghostly harridan who may be his mother; and encounters with a genially violent karate master and a nearly comatose old man targeted for euthanasia. One senses the implied theme of a resigned passage toward death, as well as the presence of such sub-themes as familial estrangement (expressed in the title motif), AIDS, abortion, and radiation sickness—but one cannot be sure. Overall, the novel is simply too unrelentingly bizarre, and perhaps too private, to be confidently interpreted. It feels unfinished.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679746638
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,008,676
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.45 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Extremely Surreal

    I had previously read Kobo Abe's "The Box Man" and thought I would give "The Kangaroo Notebook" a shot. I enjoyed the book and found it to be a nice change from Jules Verne's "20000 Leagues Under the Sea" (although squid still seemed to be an ongoing topic)

    This book is absurdly surreal and at times difficult to follow, but overall it is well worth the effort. The story can be perceived in many ways, however, I viewed the narrative to be an allegorical reference to the medical field and the estrangement of the incurable patient.

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