The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
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I'm about 50 pages away from the end of The Face of Another and have been thoroughly enjoying this one. For those having trouble with either The Box Man or Woman in the Dunes, this one is a much easier read in terms of subject and just general readability. I think it's a good option for getting to know Abe as his usual technique is there: splitting up his novel starting with the what and how, going to the why and when and then ending with, well, I haven't read the ending yet but it's usually the revelatory part. At least, if one were to reduce Abe to just such... simplifications. Hope to post my thoughts on this one soon since I'm almost done with it.
Abe is just so good at sucking you in from the first page. He has even drawn you a map to his hideaway and has put tea in a thermos jug so that you may relax as you read the three notebooks that he has written just for you. But the you is not actually the reader, it's his wife, as he wishes to recount how she has come to this hideaway to read about his story.
It's the story of a scientist who has lost his face in an accident and has decided to build himself a new one; or rather, a mask. But the mask is not to be recognizable as a mask; it should instead be capable of shaping itself to fill out its beaten out contours. Typical of Abe we go through a very lengthy, a notebook-worth, explanation of how one constructs a mask and what one should look for. Now, this could seem like it'd be as a dull as reading a scientific paper on a topic one isn't interested in but, the notebook is filled with interesting ideas about what defines a face. Is it your bone structure? Is it the skin? What creates, or rather, what defines expression and what defines a person's identity? At first the scientist wishes to think that the face has nothing to do with identify for doesn't a blind person for example identify others via scent, the sound of a voice, the feeling of touch? And what about expression? Does our face create expression or do our expressions create our face? For with each smile, each frown, each tear, lines are slowly etched into our skin, tears show off a path of wetness down your cheek and the sun and age will change the shape of your face with time.
The second notebook delves into the role of the mask. Does a mask hide our personality or enhance it, subdue it or change it entirely? His accounts on the differences between masks that are made to look like masks versus masks that are made to deceive is fascinating. At one point he creates a world where masks become a trend where more and more begin to wear a mask. In just a few short pages it goes from a mere fancy to the bringing down of a government as he realizes there is no way one could regulate such a population of masked men. And if violence is inherent to a mask like a wrinkle sits by an eye, what becomes of a world where one can change their face at whim?
But as one is to expect from a Japanese Dr. Jekyll (or was it Mr. Hyde?), the mask begins to quickly overpower the scientist and we are subjected to his mumblings about wanting to seek revenge on his wife and how he intends on letting the mask seduce her. But as he becomes part of this strange menage-a-trois we go back to the word "mumblings" as after the third notebook, we are subjected to a very powerful letter. A letter that actually confirms our suspicions and brings out the pathetic nature of our poor scientist.
Fantastic book. Should be read.
And for those who are too confused by The Box Man, this is a much easier read although just as fascinating.
I wanted to collect quotes but instead of one sentence snippets, I would have basically rewritten the whole book. This quote however was attached to the section I referenced about whether violence is inherent to a mask and what happens if masks become mainstream.
"I have proven that a mask by its very existence is basically destructive. Equivalent to premeditated murder, the mask can stand shoulder to shoulder, with no feeling of inferiority, with arson or banditry. It was not surprising that the mask, which itself was a form of destruction, was not inspired to such crimes as arson and murder, although it was in the act of walking now through the ruins of human relationships destroyed by its existence. Despite the throbbing cancer of its cravings, it was satisfied simply to be." (pg. 167)
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