Last Friday (Books acquired, 30 Dec. 2022)

I picked up first edition hardbacks of The Box Man by Kobo Abe and Fantômas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre today at the used bookstore I like to wander around every other Friday afternoon (or, if I’ve had a bad week, maybe every Friday afternoon, or even a Monday, or Thursday). I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular (okay, I was looking for a physical copy of Joy Williams’ novel Harrow) but I couldn’t resist these two hardbacks (the Abe ate up the rest of my trade credit).

The spine of Fantômas—the font, really—made me pull it down. The cover promised an intro by John Ashbery, and the dual-author thing intrigued me. I also dug the cover, which I didn’t immediately identify as a Fred Marcellino, although the jacket confirmed him as the designer. Unless I am missing it from the jacket or front matter, no translator is credited.

E. Dale Saunders is credited as the translator of Kobo Abe’s novel The Box Man — and not just on the back jacket flap of this 1974 Knopf edition (design by K.B. Hwang), but also on the cover (eh, K.B. Hwang again). From Jerome Charyn’s contemporary NYT review:

Abe’s book is a stunning addition to the literature of eccentricity, those bitter, crying voices of Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener and Dostoevsky’s underground man. It gnaws at the reader, forces him to question his values, his Shibboleths and his ritualistic props, and shoots an energetic poison into his ear. The Box Man is funny, sad and destructive, an ontological “thriller” that bumps into and contradicts its own clues.


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