Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Kb Abe is an extraordinarily diverse and prolific writer, and The Ruined Map represents both the height of his novelistic career and one of the finest examples of the New Novel, if one extends its presence beyond the borders of France. A graduate of medical school, Abe is a playwright, director, producer, and essayist, as well as a novelist: In 1973, his Abe Kb zensakuhin (the collected works of Kb Abe) ran to fifteen volumes. Other novels of the period of The Ruined Map, including Suna no onna (1962; The Woman in the Dunes, 1964), Tanin no kao (1964; The Face of Another, 1966), and Hakootoko (1973; The Box Man, 1974), reflect an ongoing concern with the psychology of the individual in the modern world, where the “self” is viewed as a series of masks or facades, as an organization of surfaces amid the surfaces of a palimpsestic contemporary existence that hides or erases the depths within. The cinematic quality of Abe’s novels, which seem to be composed largely of a series of disparate images or “shots” taken from various angles, accords with his presentation of identity projected within acts of perception, rather than through action or the development of character. A superb stylist, Abe—along with other allegorists of the modern condition such as Franz Kafka, Robbe-Grillet, and Hawkes—has made a crucial imaginative contribution to an understanding of how perception and interpretation partially govern the construction of a contemporary reality.