Top positive review
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an enduring classic
on November 7, 2002
Well, I've just finished reading The Trial for the sixth, maybe even eighth time, and as usual my brain is buzzing with all the unanswered questions and unspoken quandaries that this book embeds in the reader's mind.
An aside - this is the first time I have read this particular translation, having read the Muir's work before. Perhaps this translation is a bit livelier, and the chapters, or sequences, are grouped a bit differently, but the general experience of reading and digesting this book was much the same as with the Muir's version. One caution, if you are a first time reader do not read the introduction first. The author gives away much too much of the story and ending in the introduction.
Now, back to the book itself. As "they" say, the mark of a true classic is that you can reread the book several times and always find it fresh. This is most certainly the case with The Trial. I always struggle with the question of K.'s innocence. The reader is told, unequivocally, that the Law is attracted to guilt. Is this an illustration of the unreasoning, monolithic madness that
so often surrounds totalitarian states, or is Kafka tellling
the reader indirectly that K. is guilty? I think most readers,
especially me, want to like and identify with the central
protagonist of a novel, but on this particular rereading
I noticed that K. is really a pretty nasty character. He is
arrogant beyond belief, selfish, treats women and most everyone
else as objects, and is even potentially violent. He alienates
and insults people who have the desire and the means to help him
navigate the formalities and uncertainties of his arrest and
trial. Or, is he an essentially decent fellow who, beset with
unrelenting frustration and anger at being accused and arrested
for a crime he didn't commit, decompensates into irrational
actions? Don't expect easy answers from Kafka. He is not going
to wrap everything up in a pretty bow, fully resolved, so that
you can feel good. It's a damned disturbing, sometimes bizarre,
and ultimately amazing novel. What is noteworthy is how
deceptively simple the construction of the plotline is. First,
the novel is short. Second, there are no parallel or
simultaneous plotlines occurring. There is only one plotline,
that of K. as he is initially arrested and subsequently tries to
make sense of what the charges are and how to deal with them. K.
is in every scene. There's no ,"meanwhile, back at the
courthouse, Inspector Smith was...". So the story, if this novel
can be said to contain a "story", moves along quite quickly.
Kafka's prose style is crisp and unadorned, as you might expect
from someone educated in business and law in early 1900's
Prague.And it's a good thing that he writes so clearly, because
the story itself contains not only some astonishingly bizarre
scenes (the flogging in the closet springs to mind) but dizzying
explanations of the procedures and logic of the court, the Law,
the judges, and lawyers. Imagine a writer like Tom Robbins, or
Don Delillo, with their hallucinogenic segues and refusal to bow
to consistency and logic, trying to pull off the "Lawyer"
or "Painter" sequences. It would be a soggy mess. But Kafka with
his precision and austerity makes it breathtaking.
It's funny, when my friends see me reading Kafka the initial response is almost always surprise and some variation of "Yuck!"
Of course, they haven't read him, but everyone "knows" that he is weird and dark and disturbed plus the book is old and doesn't probably even have a happy ending. Oh well, their loss.
I really want to take a class on Kafka, ideally focussing on the Trial. It is puzzling and unsettling and I'd love to hear other's thoughts on the symbolism and meaning contained in the book. In fact, if you're a Kafka scholar, or just someone who likes and has given some thought to this book, email me with your thoughts.
I unhesitatingly recommend this novel. It is important. It is certainly important to me.