Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Ruined Map
















Whilst reading Kobo Abe's novels it's almost impossible not to visualize them being enacted out in black and white, the details of the scenery, the descriptions of roads and cityscapes, the people in them, any piece of descriptive prose one imagines in black and white. The Ruined Map/ Moyetsukita chizu is probably one of the least known adaptions of Abe's novels by Teshigahara Hiroshi, it is in fact the only adaption that was filmed in colour, although as of yet the film hasn't seen a release outside of Japan, in Japan it is included in a boxset of Teshigahara's movies that has recently been released. The novel was translated by E. Dale Saunders, beginning an Abe novel the reader at first finds themselves getting to grips in searching out the parameters of the story, and in as much as Abe's novels depict an expansive landscape of the imagination, the impression that they operate within a confined space is often difficult to shake off. After the preliminary plot line has been established the reader simply has to wait and look for the moment or clues that things are going to start to shift out of the framework Abe has set up, it's this moment that I think that always draws me back to reading his novels and writing. The Ruined Map is a detective novel in more ways than one, Nemuro Hiroshi, head of sales of a large company, (Dainen Enterprises), has been missing for six months, at his brother in-laws instigation his wife hires a detective in an attempt to track him down. The novel is presented from the perspective of the detective, and visiting Nemuro's wife he finds that since his disappearance she has slipped into alcoholism, the contents of her apartment are described in a way that turns every object into a clue worthy of the most scrupulous suspicion, a motif that appears whenever the detective returns to the wife's apartment is the lemon yellow curtains, it appears as one of the most reliable features that the detective can rely upon.

The detective's investigation is pitted against evasion, the brother in-law insists that he start the case from the beginning and refrains from proffering any of the information that he has gathered. Initially all the detective has to go on is a photograph and a box of matches with a phone number on it, which in turn leads him to the Camellia coffee house. Returning to Dainen Enterprises puts him into contact with Tashiro whom Mr Nemuro was meant to meet with the day he disappeared, Tashiro begins to lead the investigation into stranger waters which are later revealed to be not what they seem, and draws the map of where he was meant to have met Nemuro. As the case progresses the detective begins to learn that Mr Nemuro and his brother in-law are involved in what appears to be a criminal organisation called the Yamamoto Association, involving blackmail and prostitution, obviously a subtle insinuation in the name of the association. The detective wrestles with suppositions of the motives of Nemuro's disappearance, and at times the detective's circumstance resembles those of Nemuro. The novel is devoid of the metaphor seen to the extent in The Woman in the Dunes/Suna no Onna and perhaps lacks the cryptic symbolism of Secret Rendezvous/Mikkai, but themes that feature in Abe's writing are apparent here. Towards the end of the novel the detective appears to suffer an amnesiac breakdown, the demarcations of his individuality begin to slip away, but as with much of Abe's writing this does not in turn to describing the collective consciousness, but acts as a stripping away of the superfluity of the individual. The novel is dotted with instances where the detective observes the anonymous mass, people on the move each searching for their individual goals, Abe's novels carry many subtexts, and here he seems to be looking into the unconscious nature of the aspirations of the modern individual, the map that Tashiro had drawn for the detective acts as a perfect template for Abe to explore many notions of this loosing of direction, or location.

The Ruined Map at Vintage International
       

4 comments:

Parrish Lantern said...

have this on my kindle, wanted it for the J-lit challenge, so will hopefully start it soon. this was a timely reminder of this book thanks.

me. said...

I find myself easily absorbed into Abe's novels, I'm looking forward to reading your post on The Ruined Map. If I had a Kindle I think that it would soon be an added extension to my library, I'm trying hard to read some titles that I've put on hold to read, although this afternoon I succumbed to buying a copy of Vladimir Odoevsky's Two Days in the Life of the Terrestial Globe and Other Stories, my book buying amnesty didn't last long...

Rise said...

Loved your description of this. I have one more Abe novel in my TBR. 'The Face of Another', also adapted by Teshigahara. Theirs seems to be a great partnership. I was trying to find his collection 'Beyond the Curve', the one that contains his Akutagawa-winning story "The Crime of S.Karuma" but alas it seems to be out of print.

me. said...

I've got The Face of Another to read too, pretty sure that Beyond the Curve is out of print, it does contain The Crime of S.Karuma although I'm pretty sure in saying that it's not the full novel, but the collection is still well worth tracking out. I think I'm going to read Kangaroo Notebook next. If you've not come across it already a really great Abe site is -

http://www.ibiblio.org/abekobo/