Left unfinished by Kafka in 1922 and not published until 1926, two years after his death, The Castle is the haunting tale of K.’s relentless, unavailing struggle with an inscrutable authority in order to gain access to the Castle. Scrupulously following the fluidity and breathlessness of the sparsely punctuated original manuscript, Mark Harman’s new translation reveals levels of comedy, energy, and visual power previously unknown to English language readers.
Just when I thought I was converting to Kafka, this book came along and stomped all over it.
It probably didn’t help that I was having to read it for uni in a short time frame, but even then… it was just so very boring. Perhaps if Kafka had actually finished it and edited it in the way he wanted, it could have been saved. Maybe Kafka himself just thought it sucked and gave up. Perhaps I just don’t get it.
As I said in my review of The Metamorphosis, I respect what Kafka is doing and acknowledge that, but it just isn’t enjoyable for me. I wouldn’t ever go out of my way to read any more Kafka for pleasure, to be totally honest.
What did save this book for me was the actual discussion at uni about it, where we picked apart the themes and really got deep into what’s going on in The Castle. It probably dragged my final rating from a 1 star to a 2-ish star, give or take a bit. That’s the real beauty of discussing literature at such a high level… we really get into the nitty gritty and I feel that I get heaps more out of it.
I still wish it was The Castle the movie rather than the book! Couldn’t K. have gone to Bonnie Doon instead?
Kafka’s slapstick comedy is really obvious in this novel. The assistants were hilarious and I enjoyed seeing what ridiculous things they were getting up to. If he’d just written a book about them, it’d be awesome!
The main character, K., is a bit of an unlikeable jerk. He’s constantly fixated on getting to the Castle… but why? He doesn’t know. Then when he gets there, it sucks. I kept telling K. to just leave! If everyone is mean and you hate it, go back to where you came from! Even Frieda wanted to leave, but K. was just too stubborn and intent on being a “land surveyor”, even though his role was totally useless and he was really a failure of a school janitor. Massive fail. He made it really difficult to enjoy the rest of the background action, since I was constantly facepalming over what he was doing.
The Castle was also quite interesting. The ridiculous nature of the bureaucracy was both hilarious and frustrating. It definitely has elements of Orwellian surveillance, which came out in heaps of different ways throughout the novel. The village felt claustrophobic and dark, with a constant sense of watchfulness and danger. Everyone assumes knowledge where nothing makes sense, then misunderstands why the communication between K. and the villagers keeps breaking down. It doesn’t help that the rules are entirely contradictory and nonsensical to an outsider, but K. is constantly mocked for not having the knowledge of that… but again, he doesn’t really attempt to learn, foisting his own ideas of rules onto the situations he finds himself in. This constant clash of ideals adds to the strange, intense feeling of the entire novel.
This novel also includes the least sexy sex scene I’ve read in the history of ever. It was both gross and utterly ridiculous, especially considering what follows. K. literally bangs a barmaid behind the bar in a puddle of stale beer. Delightful. Then he vows and declares he loves her and will marry her about two minutes later.
Kafka definitely had a weird relationship with sex… and females in general, really. Having now read quite a bit of his work, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he was bisexual or perhaps homosexual, which was totally not cool in the 1920’s, so he’s suppressing that side of him out of guilt. If that theory is true, it says quite a bit about the way he writes relationships in his works.
I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read Kafka before. I don’t think it’s his best work, but if you’re a big Kafka fan it’s really something you should check out.