Secret Rendezvous

by Kobo Abe. This is a truly bizarre Japanese novel. It reminded me a lot of Abe’s last book, Kangaroo Notebook, but also of some of the more surreal novels of Haruki Murakami (Dance, Dance, Dance in particular). The protagonist is a shoe salesman whose wife has been taken away in an ambulance. When he goes to the hospital, he discovers that she has vanished and tries to investigate, only to find himself caught up in the system of sex-crazed patients and sexually dysfunctional hospital staff. This is not a book for the sex-squeamish.

Like other of Abe’s novels, the outlook on life is pretty grim, but many of the situations he constructs are hilarious, especially the interactions between the narrator and his boss on the investigation, who wants to be a horse (and has found a novel way of achieving this goal). The book is told through a series of notebooks from the investigation, written by the narrator (who is forced to refer to himself in the third person for much of the time). It is hard to keep track of time in the writing, but the breaks between the formalism of the investigation and the narrator’s comments in the middle is one of the fun parts in the reading.

All in all, I wouldn’t say this is Abe’s best book, but it has a surreal quality about it that fans of Murakami or of Stanislaw Lem’s Memoirs Found In A Bathtub would like.