Franz Kafka’s The Trial – Very Trying

Penguin Modern Classics, 1971.

Penguin Modern Classics, 1971.

Never having read any Kafka, I was quite excited when The Trial was chosen for one of my book groups, so I went online and found myself a fabulous 1971 copy from the Penguin Modern Classics series as you can see on the left.

First published in 1925, The Trial tells the story of a man “Joseph K.”, a senior bank clerk who is arrested and prosecuted by an unknown organisation. The nature of the crime is never revealed to the reader or even to Joseph himself. Joseph progresses through various stages of confusion and paranoia, trying to understand his situation as he moves from one strange situation to another.

I have to say from the outset, that I didn’t much enjoy the experience of reading The Trial. This is largely due to the nature of the writing style employed by Kafka which creates a dreamlike, or rather nightmarish sense of time and place. The reader is transported into a surreal reality where everything feels off-kilter. There is a strange sort of dream logic to things, for example in once scene, Joseph is in a courtroom and Kafka describes the atmosphere of the courtroom, and in a side comment mentions that people have brought cushions to put between their head and the ceiling. Or when he visits a painter Titorelli ;

“…he rushed after her, seized her by the skirts, whirled her once around her head and then set her down before the door among the other girls…”

I’d like to say that sentence makes sense in the context of the story, but I can’t! People seem to defy the laws of physics, odd things become normal and events happen with a sort of monotonous inevitability.

The book sort of reminded me of an M.C. EscherRelativityESCHER-410px picture. Fascinating, but if you look too long it just makes your head hurt.

Of course, this probably the essence of what Kafka intended to convey, and so in this way the book is very clever in putting the reader right into the nightmarish reality of Joseph K, who is isolated and yet surrounded by odd characters, alone in the face of an all-powerful almost totalitarian organisation that has him in its oppressive grip.

Even though I found the book a difficult read, the language itself is very simply conveyed. At the beginning of the novel the writing reminded me a little of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, although I almost don’t like to compare it as C&P is one of my favourite novels. As you can probably tell by now, I personally wouldn’t choose to read another Kafka novel, but I’m glad I did as it stretched my imagination (and gave me wierd dreams). I wouldn’t want to put anyone off reading it though as I imagine it’s the kind of book you either love or hate and it’s definitely a different reading experience!

Has anyone else read any Kafka, or any other novels that you found surreal?

13 responses to “Franz Kafka’s The Trial – Very Trying

  1. How coincidental that two of your book groups chose Czech authors to read this month!

    I have The Trial on my shelf waiting to be read. I read “Metamorphosis” for the first tine earlier this year and loved it.

    • I know, isn’t that funny – and I don’t think I’ve ever read any other Czech authors before!

      Well if you read The Trial then let me know what you think – I’m curious to know if it’s similar to the Metamorphosis or different. Maybe your head is made of sterner stuff than mine!

  2. The titel of this post made me laugh out loud… at my desk and everyone wanted to know why… I made something up.

    I read The Metamorphosis back at school and it nored the heck out of me, I understand he is a master of writing but he is just so surreal. I think back then I was more open to it yet less understanding than I would be now. I sometimes think he is an author people read so they can say they have, do you know what I mean?

  3. Well I’m glad you still wrote a good review despite of not personally enjoying Kafka’s style. I’ve read The Metamorphosis before, which is just a short novella, and I do agree that the atmosphere of his stories are quite bizarre (now that I think of it, isn’t that even the very meaning of “kafka-esque”?). I’ll try to read this one some day. Thanks.

    • Thanks 🙂 Well I’m not sure that I am a massive fan of Kafka but I would like to hope that I will get around to reading The Metamorphosis one day.

  4. Bizarre, yes. Surreal? To us, maybe, but I don’t think that was his aim.

    Keep in mind that Kafka thought The Trial and Metamorphosis were funny! Yes, a strange sort of humor, but they are funny indeed. George Steiner called The Trial a religious comedy, or something like that.

    Linking FK to premonitions of totalitarianism is a mistake, I think. He cared not a bit for politics or history, unless it was from the Old Testament, perhaps.

    • novelinsights

      I can kind of see how they have a humourous element. Although his intention may not have been to have predict totalitarian ideas, I couldn’t help but get that feeling if you know what I mean…?

  5. I got the same feeling about totalitarianism when reading Metamorphosis, like with how people around Gregor treated him (e.g., the company).

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