32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2000
"Which situation should I declare 'real' and which one a 'dream?'" This is the question that plagues the narrator of Kobo Abe's Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel written before his death in 1993. We can consider ourselves lucky, indeed, that one of the world's most distinguished novelists left us with this surreal and unique vision of Japanese society that is both disturbingly fearful and hilariously funny.
On a morning that should have turned out like any other morning, the first person narrator of Kangaroo Notebook awakens to find radish sprouts growing out of his shins. Although his doctor in repulsed, the narrator finds he now possesses the strange and unique ability to snack on...himself.
An eerie adventure to rid himself of his malady takes the book's protagonist into an increasingly hostile and mysterious world, one that in turn, is surreal, playful and almost unassailably enigmatic.
The plot is a weird and wild ride to say the least. Unlike Kafka's narrator in Metamorphosis, our slowly unraveling protagonist checks into a dermatology clinic and soon finds himself hurtling on a hospital bed to the very brink of hell.
An attractive nurse, known only as Damselfly, straps him to a hospital bed and begins to administer huge quantities of unknown drugs. A short time later, still strapped to this hospital bed, still hooked up to his IV and still suffering from his mysterious malady, our protagonist is summarily discharged.
A cast of spooky characters is then introduced via visits to a glitzy department store, a cabbage field that serves as the final resting place of the narrator's dead mother and Damselfly's own apartment.
One of those characters, the hirsute Mister Hammer Killer, an American karate expert, has such a love of violence that our narrator once again finds himself confined to a hospital.
His situation only worsens with the arrival of the "Help Me! Club," a club whose members consist solely of demonic chanting children.
The sexy Damselfly, herself, turns out to be a bit of a vampire. Her quest to collect enough blood to win the "Dracula's Daughter" medal is nothing short of relentless. Despite these bizarre plot twists and turns, the finale of Kangaroo Notebook is undeniably perfect and, almost surrealistically, makes perfect sense.
Abe's typical protagonist is an "outsider" who is haunted by a sense of alienation and anxiety over the fragility of individual identity. Although seeking relief from society's pressure to conform, he still yearns for communal emotional connection.
These universal themes, combined with an ironic, satiric and often bizarre manner of expression, have led many to assume that Abe's writing bears a closer resemblance to Western writers, Kafka, in particular, than to traditional Japanese literary models. Yet Abe's fiction reflects his strong Japanese heritage in its vividly imagistic prose, its abundant incorporation of Japanese cultural icons and its satirical treatment of Japanese psychosocial dynamics.
Kangaroo Notebook is one of Abe's signature triumphs. He deftly uses a swiftly-moving barrage of morbidly fascinating images, characters and places to reflect cleverly-disguised, but recurring themes, and he balances hysterical humor with deadpan lines, such as, "Something's really odd." Sure, we think. You don't say.
Surrealistic fiction is so often not given its due since the bizarre and original happenings must, of necessity, supplant traditional storyline and character development, thus distancing readers emotionally. But for those readers who have achieved intellectual maturity and originality of thought, surrealistic fiction offers insights surely lacking in more mainstream works.
In Kangaroo Notebook, Kobo Abe takes us on a masterful, dizzyingly original romp to the razor-thin line between life and death, a theme-park of his own life and art.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 1999
Kangaroo Notebook is a difficult novel to understand, but you'll love it anyway. The plot is bizzare, to say the least. A man discovers that he has radish sprouts growing from his shins. His condition baffles the doctor at a local dermatology clinic, who sends him away in a self propelled hospital bed, telling him to try hot spring treatment. While en-route to the hot springs, he is cast down a dark tunnel and ends up on the shores of hell. From there, the plot gets really weird (but very addicting) as the narrator meets a child-demons, a vampire-esque nurse intent on drawing enough blood to win the "Dracula's Daughter" award, and an American photographer interested in achieving population contrl through traffic accidents.
The novel's symbolism becomes less obscure when one considers the great shame and self loathing "deformed" or "imperfect" members of Japanese society feel. Early in the novel, the narrator comments that marsupials are essentially inferior versions of mammals. The narrator, a terminally ill or deformed individual, feels like a marsupial, followed, wherever he goes, by his deformity (just as the narrator is followed by his hospital bed). At the novel's conclusion, the narrator sees himself in a box, perhaps a coffin, readers are presented with an exerpt from a newspaper regarding the discovery of a man found dead in a train station with self-inflicted slashes to his shins. The police, the article mentions, do not believe the slashes to the man's shins were the cause of death. The reader is left with the vague impression that the narrator, seeing his impending death, committed suicide (or perhaps was assisted).
Kangaroo Notebook is often compared to Burroughs' Naked Lunch or a cross between Kafka and Alice in Wonderland. I found the novel to be far more. Kangaroo Notebook is more than a strange story; it's an honest and deeply personal look into the mind of an individual whose disease is turning him (quite literally) into a vegatable. Read the novel, and see why Abe was considered Japan's leading author of modern fiction before his death.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Kangaroo Notebook is the last book written by Kobo Abe; in many ways, it is a reflection on the approach of death, on being an outsider, and, perhaps, on outsider as a kind of death. "Perhaps" because this book is written in a very ambiguous style that allows, even encourages, readers to find different interrelationships between the parts.
The narrator begins the story at his suggestion in his workplace being selected as the best - his suggestion, originally a joke, was a product, a kangaroo notebook. This leads to the proposition that marsupials are outcasts - the mammal version of each species being more viable than the marsupial counterpart. Within this context, the narrator notes that his shins are sprouting radishes.
Seeking treatment at a dermatologist is the beginning of a series of occurrences - real, dream, illusion, post-anesthetia confusion? This are absolutely delightful, humorous events - a bed traveling in the city through the narrator's mental efforts, of a hell-based sulfur springs treatment, of child demons, of dead mothers in cabbage fields, of an American graduate student studying fatal accidents, of euthansia ...
This astounding romp is a serious consideration of death, our beliefs regarding death (the limbo children) and of suicide/murder/euthansia/accident.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2006
I've enjoyed several of Abe novels, so I decided to try this one. I didn't enjoy it as much as I had his other novels. First of all, you're never really sure if it is a story about someone's real bizarre experience, or if it is a trip through the underworld. At certain points, it's really strange, but then at other points, it is very mundane. Perhaps it is a journey through the underworld, as the underlying theme is death. It explores how to approach the end when it comes.
If you're interested in Abe, then you might want to read this, but if you haven't read Abe before, I recommend trying some of his other books.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 1998
This was the first of Abe's novels that I read. I was impressed by the intensity and depth of the psychological metaphors he employed. Part of the magic of the book is that you are drawn into the story without any hint of why the central character has radish sprouts growing from his shins. It is not until the end that you have an opportunity to consider your understanding of all the events. Curiously, this does not leave one with a feeling of being cheated, but of being rewarded with the experience of Abe's work
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2004
Kangaroo Notebook is a darkly surreal novel, at turns bizarre and ridiculous then just as easily becomes normal and calm. While lacking a sense of continuity through a few odd narrative choices, Kangaroo Notebook remains an interesting experiment into imagination.
One day, our nameless narrator wakes to find that he has radish sprouts growing from his knees. Not particularly alarmed at this, he soon discover to his pleasure that they are edible and quite tasty. A doctor's appointment lands him in the hospital where he is knocked out with drugs. From there, using his trusty Atlas bed as a transportation device, we are led through bizarre scene after bizarre scene, from hairy American martial arts experts to the souls of aborted children who perform plays on the banks of the river Sai for charity.
The narrator is on one hand an interesting fellow - he IS growing radish sprouts from his knees, after all - and his adventures are quite entertaining, but there is a lack within him. He show no great curiosity as to why everything is happening to him, nor does he really seem interested in getting everything back to normal. He is content to go with the flow, and throughout the novel, he acts more as a spectator than an actual character. Almost, but not quite, he is an omniscient narrator, in the sense that his voice does nothing more than record what is happening. Not quite though, because he does participate in a few interesting conversations along the way. Unfortunately, his lack of personality is a definite crutch.
The nameless narrator ricochets from bizarre sequence to stunningly normal locale, then back to bizarre with a speed that is at time dizzying. Often, scene changes are precipitated by the narrator being knocked unconscious, a fairly weak literary device that is used far too often here. The end sequence is the most bizarre of them all, juxtaposing the lengthy normal hospital scene that proceeds it.
The novel ended, to my mind, abruptly and without closure. There is a cryptic message at the end - which, I'll admit, I was expecting something of the sort - but I couldn't really decipher it at first. But, after thinking about the novel for a few hours after I had finished, I realised that the ending was, in fact, perfect.
To my mind, appreciation of this book comes down to a personal choice. If you enjoy bizarre series of events that don't seem to be going anywhere but suddenly illuminate at the end, then by all means read it. If however, you don't like barely connected scenes with a personality-less narrator, steer clear.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2007
A man wakes up one morning with radish sprouts growing out of his shins. Just the day before, the wise-aleck dropped a note in the suggestion box at work proposing the manufacture of a new product: kangaroo notebooks. Is there a connection?
In the dreamy, surreal world depicted by Kobo Abe, it's not so much that things are connected as that they develop out of each other like the unexpected pattern of a rapidly mutating crystal. Seeking medical attention at a strange urology/dermatology clinic, the narrator of *Kangaroo Notebook* is wheeled into a makeshift operating room only to wake up in a world that may all be a post-op hallucination or--well, it's left up to you decide what else it could possibly be.
In the meantime, the narrator recounts his mock-heroic adventures through a hellish landscape of ghosts, goblin children, ghoulish invalids, and, maybe most peculiarly of all, an American biker. It's like a funhouse ride through an updated Dante's Inferno aboard the self-propelled hospital bed upon which the narrator travels from one bizarre episode to another. What coherence there is to this absurd tragicomedy is strictly of the sort you feel within a complex dream. There's no rhyme or reason to any of it--and, yet, somehow it's rich with the intimations of deep levels of meaning.
It's not particularly hard to write a text like *Kangaroo Notebook.* But it's very hard to do it well. Often such narratives are rambling, arbitrary, and completely dependent on an ever escalating series of shocks--violence, sexual, scatological. All these elements are present in *Kangaroo Notebook,* but Abe manages to imbue it with the `artless' art of a genuine dream--symbolic, transgressive, thematic, enigmatic--and he implants a subtle narrative drive that pushes this comic, yet ultimately disturbing tale forward to its logically illogical and haunting conclusion. *Kangaroo Notebook* is one of the better examples Ive yet come across of a style of wild absurdism that can too often read like an exercise in automatic writing.
A mind-bending novel, Abe's last, and filled with paradox, acute anxiety, and intimations of mortality, *Kangaroo Notebook* is an odd--and yet oddly fitting--final testament from one of the 20th century's more original literary voices.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2011
Like all my reviews I keep things short. So in short, this book does not make sense. You will not be able to trace one plot point to another, or one line even to another for that matter, but a story is told nevertheless.
Read this on a bender. Save it for one of those weeks where Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan are calling to you, and this book will make a seemingly abstract sort of sense. Leave it in the bathroom, read 3-4 pages at a time, understand that everything that happens is totally illogical and realistically impossible, but drunk enough, it'll probably fall somewhere short of sane.
This book is about a man who spontaneously begins to grow radish sprouts out of the pores in his legs. Read that sentence again if you have to. After a doctor's visit, you'll find yourself in hell listening to children chanting songs, then cringing from the vampire nurse trying to draw your blood through a syringe, then in a mental ward where you're plotting the murder of fellow inmates, and, really, you've gone yourself two clocks past insane.
I found this book because supposedly it was an inspiration for the writing of the original Metal Gear Solid for PS1 in 1998. And in that regard, I can see how this creepy and weird story eerily influenced that games' "decent into madness" theme. Beyond that, grab a coat cause you're gonna need it trying to sift through this scramble of scenes, characters, events, and eggs over easy. Yes, breakfast. With pancakes. Cause that's about as much sense as this book makes.
But it's worth reading. You'll read a hundred tried "story" novels for every random one like this, hinging itself on the spontaneity of its prose and the words themselves over some melodramatic, overthought narrative. Lump this book in with The Last Exit to Brooklyn, A Clockwork Orange, or The Sound and the Fury. If you've read any of those you'll know what I'm talking about.
My god, this book is about one of the most insane things I've ever read but at the same time the most unique and memorable. Take that for what you will, do what you will, and really if you read this far in my review at all, then you'll probably dig the book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2000
This was an interesting read although I can't say that I entirely enjoyed the journey. However, some of the imagery is beautiful and mad which is why I give the book 3 stars. I would not dismiss the book as nonsensical as some of the other reviewers have done; the novel is simply full of a lot of symbols that seem tangential since the book possesses a petrifying finale without giving the reader the satisfaction of some type of enlightenment in the end. Ultimately, I thought the novel is about the journey towards death - although I can't say I'm entirely sure about this - and the inferiority, bewilderment, and deformity suffered along the way. If you like bizarre fiction, try this book. If you would like to still read a book by Kobo Abe but want something slightly more accessible but still possesses the same type of imagery and symbolism, try Woman in the Dunes which is a beautiful book.
on August 11, 2013
What would you do if you woke up one morning to find radish sprouts starting to grow on the shins of your leg up to your knees? In the case of the narrator of this book, he takes himself off to a dermatologist, causes the doctor to throw up, is hooked up to an IV and catheter by an attractive nurse named Damselfly, strapped onto a hospital bed, and then discharged, with a note from the doctor to visit a sulfur hotspring in the Valley of Hell. And so begins our narrator's wild adventure. He wills his bed to move and to his shock, it does, rolling down the street and then hurtling down a cavern into what might just be Hell. The benefit of growing radish sprouts on one's leg, though, is that at least one has food he can pluck and munch on whenever he's hungry.
His adventures include rolling into a department store and attempting to purchase some clothes, rolling on train tracks in the cavern shared by miniature trains, being chased by female squid attracted to the male squids that have appeared in his IV bag, meeting child-demons of the chanting Help Me Please Club and their artistic director, wadding through a cabbage field and meeting his dead mother, an American karate expert with a penchant for violence and who studies fatal accidents, and repeated meetings with Damselfly who shows up unannounced and out of the blue, often to help him out of problems. But then Damselfly turns out to be a bit of a vampire who is on her own quest to win the Dracula's Daughter medal.
Throughout, the reader isn't sure if this is supposed to be real or adventures the narrator is dreaming. However, his adventures all take him to or through some aspects of death and the afterlife, and makes the way the book ends perfect.
It's humorous and quite thought provoking. It's definitely rich in imagery.