Book: The Castle
Author: Franz Kafka
Bookhad Rating: ♥♥(half)
Kafka has a genre named after him altogether. We’ve all heard of Kafkaesque. More than once, we’ve been assailed by a situation where the better reads have mentioned it and the lesser mortals have nodded in agreement all the while wondering what the heck does that complicated elitist and almost unpronounceable phrase mean!
It’s not really just a mere name assigned to a genre anymore; it’s become a defining word for anything that is convoluted or confusing. Google describes the word as, “Marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity. Marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger. In the manner of something written by Franz Kafka”.
From a strictly writing style point of view, I have nothing much to say about it. That said, I am also aware that Franz Kafka hasn’t attained this cult status for his language and powers of expressions; imagination and psychology, yes, metaphors, yes, but not so much for his writing judged strictly as a manner of expression. If I was asked what was the most important, most defining aspect of Castle, I would say that the substance of Kafka’s work is in its Thought. In the case of Castle, the one thing that keeps hitting you while reading is the Thought of Hopelessness and the Potential of Absolute Failure.
Yes, it’s in caps for a reason.
K. strives for the most basic and path of least resistance desires. To meet the authorities who invited him as a Land Surveyor. This is all he wants. But, right from the time he enters the village he is made to believe that he wasn’t invited at all, and if he was then it was an older order which was wrongly executed due to a clerical error. K. spends his time looking for a way to contact the administrative head or any ‘official’, for that matter, to solve his conundrum.
The entire length of the book is spent in dialogues and monologues that delve deeper and deeper into the human psyche and question the most basic and most practical of ideas in a roundabout manner.
If I was to look at Castle and evaluate it on merely the writing prowess of the author I would only one thing; too much telling and almost no showing. Kafka’s books are known for long dialogues with no indentations in sight and for arguments and debates on the most ridiculous of premises. One such part corresponds to an argument between K. and the landlady of the inn. On the landlady’s saying that once Klamm forgets, he forgets absolutely, K. delves headlong into making practical arguments into how a person can never forget ‘completely’ and, “… it is undemonstrable, obviously nothing more than legend, thought out moreover by the flapperish minds of those who have been in Klamm’s favour. I’m surprised that you believe in such a banal invention.”
Another conversation regards the manner in which Telephones are used in the communication of messages. The Superintendent tells K. that the only proper reaction of a person should be to “…fly from the telephone before the first sound comes through.” , because the only time when a telephone is answered is when “…a fatigued official may feel the need of a little distraction…”.
This, dear readers, is what Kafkaesque means. It means to portray a situation so mind numbing and to translate it into words that the hopelessness transcends the mere meaning of the words used. The usage of lengthy dialogues and never ending justifications used by the Castle Officials and by the villagers is a metaphor in itself. The Castle is supposed to be a flawlessly working machinery that is the epitome of justice and perfection, but a little like Big Brother, nobody knows How. At least K. doesn’t, and neither do the naive villagers.
When I had finished it, or even while I was reading it, I was aghast at the guts of a writer who is simply messing with your head. There is not much of a ‘story’, the plot is simply, the characters are unrealistic and flat, the dialogues run into pages and pages (no kidding) and the end hits you like a brickbat on the nuts! But, even then, there is something about it that you will realise after you’re done with it. It’s an odd aftertaste of a snack that lingers on your tongue only after it’s been digested (forcibly) and lost. I still wouldn’t say that I liked the book, hell, I don’t think one can simply slot a Kafka into Good or Bad, like or dislike!
It’s an experience that one has to go through to ‘get’ it. Get it?