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. Escher 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?