This is the record of the box man.
I am beginning this account in a box. A cardboard box that reaches just to my hips when I put it on over my head.
That is to say, at this juncture the box man is me. A box man, in his box, is recording the chronicle of a box man.
That first chapter just about sums up the book perfectly. The Box Man, by Kobo Abe, is a story about the life of a man who decides to live under a box. According to the box man, there are many box men out in the world, who go unnoticed or ignored by society because they are neither men nor boxes.
The box man claims to be documenting a series of events, involving a fake doctor and a fake nurse, that may lead to his eventual demise. The documents could serve as evidence in case he is killed by the fake doctor and nurse; however, in the course of his narrative, he describes strange dreams of being a fish and childhood memories and contemplates the attraction of women’s legs.
In the beginning of the book, the box man gives readers in-depth instructions on how to go about making a box to live in, including specific measurements and necessary provisions, but later veers off to talk about seemingly unrelated events. He goes on to describe the life of the fake doctor before he became a fake doctor and the nurse who, for some unknown reason, is always taking her clothes off. Murder may or may not have been committed, and the box man may or may not have taken the box off his head in the end. Time is nonexistent in the novel, and from the disjointed narrative, it is difficult to distinguish what is real from what is not. At some point, the narration changes from the first person to the second person perspective, and it is not entirely clear who is writing or telling the story and who the box man really is.
Vague and confusing as it may seem, The Box Man is an intriguing story about inner conflicts, identity, voyeurism, culture, and society. It expounds on the difference in power and dynamics between being the one doing the seeing and the one being seen as well as what one is capable of knowing that his actions cannot be observed by the world. The box man claims that being able to observe people unobserved is one of the most liberating experiences in the world, and strangely enough, his ideas seem to make sense.
Ridiculous and funny as well as dark and disturbing, this short novel is a must read for those who love eccentric, metaphorical stories that will make them question social constructs and reality.
The Box Man (1974) – Kobo Abe
Vintage International; 178 pages (tpb)
Personal rating: 2.5/5