Kobo Abe finds surreal ways to capture the absurd and existential in life. The Ruined Map is Abe’s symbolic witch hunt that includes a nameless detective looking for a missing person. At its best, this story reads like a room full of broken mirrors; everywhere you look, you see slices of your identity flashing in them. Not once does Kobo Abe’s writing grant you your complete reflection. It mirrors the dark recesses of life seen and felt in fragments, so why should it spare the consciousness that survives it?
Consider this novel a study in human paranoia. It’s disturbing, incoherent, and a bit stubborn. Halfway through the book, the story feels like it’s getting nowhere; no climactic ending, no significant revelations. Nevertheless, the story is pensive and interestingly descriptive. The ambitious metaphors, the protagonist’s stinging imagination, and the mysterious diversions. Kobo Abe pulls you in and you willingly forget your reality without knowing when.
There’s a recurring thematic structure in all his stories; mirroring vanity, existentialism, and human insolence. Perhaps it’s easier to comprehend The Ruined Map after reading The Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another, and The Box Man. When it comes to reading Kobo Abe, I can feel the slow, embryonic catharsis of his characters. And for that alone, I’d read and re-read all of his stories.