Kangaroo Notebook

Abe, Kobo

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne
  • Date of entry: Aug-03-2000


One morning, while pondering the stress of his latest assignment at his uninspiring job, the narrator of Kangaroo Notebook feels an itching on his leg that seems to indicate an unusual hair loss. The next morning he wakes to discover that he is sprouting small radishes on his shins. After battling to be seen in his local medical clinic, he enters a hospital, where a physician prescribes hot-spring therapy in Hell Valley.

Hooked to a penile catheter and an IV bottle, the narrator begins a harrowing journey on his hospital bed through the underworld that seems to lie beneath the city streets. Here, he seeks health not so much as he seeks simple explanations for what is happening to him and the strange people he meets: abusive ferreymen, waiflike child demons, vampire nurses, a chiropractor who runs a karate school and works a sideline as a euthanist.


Obviously, this story is not to be taken literally. Kobo Abe, who died in 1993, has combined fantasy and social commentary in all of his work. In 1962 the film of his novel, The Woman in the Dunes won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. A Marxist activist, much of his work challenges icons of Japanese culture and depicts a society fraught with alienation and oppression.

Abe was studying medicine at Tokyo University when he began writing fiction. He never practiced medicine, but his medical training is often noted when critics write about his meticulous descriptions of material objects and the detached, seemingly clinical tone of much of his writing.

The confusion and alienation of the patient in extremis in this novel can be read, like Kafka's The Metamorphosis (see this database), on many levels, of which the literal will be the least likely. The patient as society's victim or pawn offers not only a rich critique of society but also of the experience of patienthood.



Place Published

New York



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