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The Castle in the Forest Hardcover – January 23, 2007

3.5 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Mailer did Jesus in The Gospel According to the Son; now he plumbs the psyche of history's most demonic figure in this chilling fictional chronicle of Hitler's boyhood. Mailer tells the story through the eyes of Dieter, a devil tasked by Satan (usually called the Maestro) with fostering Hitler's nascent evil, but in this study of a dysfunctional 19th-century middle-class Austrian household, the real presiding spirit is Freud. Young Adolph (often called Adi) is the offspring of an incestuous marriage between a coarse, domineering civil servant and a lasciviously indulgent mom. The boy duly develops an obsession with feces, a fascination with power, a grandiose self-image and a sexually charged yen for mass slaughter (the sight of gassed or burning beehives thrills him). Dieter frets over Hitler's ego-formation while marveling at the future dictator's burning gaze, his ability to sway weak minds and the instinctive führerprinzip that emerges when he plays war with neighborhood boys—talents furthered by Central Europe's ambient romantic nationalism. Mailer's view of evil embraces religions and metaphysics, but it's rooted in the squalid soil of toilet-training travails and perverted sexual urges. The novel sometimes feels like a psychoanalytic version of The Screwtape Letters, but Mailer arrives at a somber, compelling portrait of a monstrous soul. (Jan. 23)
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From Booklist

In his first novel in more than a decade, Mailer continues to provoke. Only a writer with his temerity would attempt a novel interpreting perhaps the most notorious figure in modern history, Adolf Hitler. Obviously, this is not your usual historical novel (neither was the author's fictional foray into pharaonic Egypt, Ancient Evenings, 1983). Here the focus is on Hitler's childhood and youth and immediate forebears. This is less a psychological study of evil than a fanciful one: the story is narrated by a devil, one of the corps of devils working under Satan, who has chosen Hitler personally to do his "work." Mailer has worked out a whole system for (pardon the rhyme) levels of devils, which will strike the reader as corresponding to theological theories concerning the degrees of angels, and, like angels, the devils struggle within their "family" as family members do--that is, they struggle not only among themselves but also with Satan. Mailer is never an easy read; in this novel, as in all his fiction, subject matter, themes, and prose style make demands on readers' willingness or even ability to stay focused. Here he cannot be faulted for inadequate knowledge of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century central European history, but many readers will find the Satan-and-army-of-devils conceit a gimmick, perhaps even an offensive one, in trying to reach an understanding of evil. Other readers will be, as always, excited by Mailer's intelligence and creativity. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 477 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (January 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394536495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394536491
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,553,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen Williams on November 29, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Castle in the Forest

Astonishing Insight on the Nature Good and Evil

This is a wonderful book to treasure and reflect upon. The precision of the writing makes it easy to read while the intensity of the psychological analysis gives the reader a lot to ponder.

This book is a story of the development, creation and cultivation of pure evil. It is written from the perspective of a progenitor of evil. The narrator created evil on earth in a very amoral tone as if explaining directions to get to the grocery store. Norman Mailer shows banality of evil doers with the sharp style of a craftsman. The book is introspective and reflective without bogging down into sentimental fog and without ever becoming tedious.

Mailer elevates the reader outside of the comfort zone and suspends them, as if he were in mid-air, to the very end of the book. Since the perspective is introspective and reflective it would have been very easy for it to have become tedious. Yet, not one page of the book seemed redundant, unnecessary or excessive in detail.

Very little of the book is devoted to dialog. Mostly the reader is given the inner thoughts, rationalizations and motives of the characters. Yet the characters are very believable and all the more pitiful.

The central theme of the book is the question of how any human being could become pure evil. This question is answered by presenting a very gradual cultivation of otherwise normal men by an outside force. Obviously the outside force is not necessary for evil to triumph. Mailer shows that the only prerequisites that are essential are excessive pride and a dose of ignorance.

This book is provocative rather than comfortable; it opens more questions than it answers; and it can be offensive and demanding. Read it for all these reasons.

Read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
It has always been hard for people to find a balance when talking about Norman Mailer and his work. But it doesn't take a lot of intelligence to call a writer names, as a previous reviewer has, or to call all of the author's output garbage. (The review in question has, apparently, been removed or withdrawn as of 1/24) To address Norman Mailer realistically, readers have always had to accept that they would find extraordinary strengths and liabilities in the same work.

Mailer's work and his persona, deeply intertwined for the past six decades, irritate the hell out of some people. Fine. But nobody's personal irritation wipes out an author's 60-year output. The Naked And The Dead, The Armies of The Night, The Executioner's Song, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Advertisements For Myself, to name only five, are major books of our time. Plainly the previous reviewer, in handing down such sweeping and unsupported dismissal of Mailer's work, is superior to the pinheads on the committees that awarded Mailer two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award, and countless other honors.

Mailer's work is always a mixture of brilliance, clumsiness, audacity, dullness, and excitement. That is a big part of why he is so interesting -- the tension among these qualities. Some of these qualities are more pronounced in some of his works than in others. Many contemporary readers will find the premise of The Castle In The Forest outlandish -- the existence of a God and a Devil, and legions of lesser devils and angels, at war with each other, and intimately involved in human affairs. This notion is nothing new in Mailer's work, and he is completely serious about it. If you don't want to go with the premise, don't read the book.
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Format: Hardcover
As a work of fiction this is a fine book. Mailer is a great writer and as I don't think this was one of his finest works, it was still an enjoyable read. What I was a bit irked by was the lack of focus on what I thought was going to be the central plot of the novel - Adolf Hitler's childhood. This was a book about his father Alois mostly. It detailed Alois' childhood, relationships, work, children, retirement and death. As soon as he died there was 20 pages left in the book. Yes, you can say that we can gain some sort of insight into Adolf's life indirectly by seeing what a person his father was but this is not very complete. My expectation was that you would see sections of his father throughout his life, sections of his school friends, deep traumatic experiences and what inevitably started him down the road of politics. The ending of this book left me feeling very incomplete, almost as if there was a second volume somewhere that I forgot to purchase.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was intrigued enough by this book published by Mailer at 83 to go back to earlier works that I had missed, eg, his book on the young Picasso and The Gospel According to the Son, as well as lots of stuff on the web by and about him. Who would have thought that gruff old Norman Mailer would work faithfully through devils and a savior while exploring the process of character development? And gratifyingly, it works.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book received very mixed reviews--people complained that it needed focus and editing. I agreed until I got near to the end of the book and realized I'd misunderstood Mailer's intention. The story is not a fictional biography of Adolf Hitler, but a fictional autobiography of a demon. Consequently, the seeming 'digressions' on Nicholas II and Elisabeth belong to the story in a significant way.

Taking that perspective, I understood what Mailer was trying to say with this book. Mailer, at the end of his life and confronting the ultimate reality, was thinking about the big questions. Is there more than this existence? Is there a god and a life after death? What are good and evil, from whence do they come, how do they function in this life? Why are we here? How much free will do we really have?

"The Castle in the Forest" leaves only hints at possible answers to these fundamental questions. In the end, I don't think Mailer found the answers. I certainly don't feel any closer to understanding after reading, but but have a warm sense of companionship in my unknowing. Reading "The Castle in the Forest" is an intellectual exercise, and that's emphatically not a criticism.

My final recommendation: if you are looking for insight into Adolf Hitler's character, don't buy this book. If you are looking for entertainment, relaxation, or fun, don't buy this book. However, if you are interested in expanding your intellectual horizons, if you want to discuss difficult questions and are prepared to forego conclusions, buy this book.
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