The Castle, by Franz Kafka

This is the first writing by Kafka I’ve read that I haven’t been impressed by. And unlike the Trial, when they say it is unfinished, they really mean unfinished, like it cuts off in the middle of a sentence. I don’t understand why this was published, or why people continue to read it today.

The story is about ‘K’, who arrives in a nameless town, and at the center of this town is a ‘the castle’ which may or may not be an actual castle, but contains offices and officials who may or may not have influence over people in the town. K wants to get into the castle for a reason we never learn, and makes nearly zero progress toward this goal for the entirety of the writing.

think the point of it was the paranoia and confusion of impenetrable bureaucracy, but I’m not totally sure. Similar to The Trial (which also features a character called ‘K’) K is overwhelmed at every step by incomprehensible rules, but unlike the Trial, in which he is trying to find out what he’s been accused of, or at least be done with his trial, in the Castle we have no idea what his objective is other than ‘get to the castle.’ We have no idea who he is or where he came from, what was his life before.

The only part of the book that I really liked was when the story of Frieda’s father trying to remove what he sees as a ‘black mark’ on his daughter because she did not meet an official who asked her out for a drink. After she does this, every wrong thing that happens to the family, he perceives as being because the officials have them on some kind of the list. He expends all his energy trying to contact these officials in the castle (which he, like K, cannot get into) and spends all his money trying to bribe them, all when they have not even confirmed that the family has any black mark at all.

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend it. There was too many long, seemingly meaningless conversations, and not enough of K being foiled to make it as claustrophobic as The Trial was. Mostly I was just bored.

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The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

Another terrific read by Nabokov, I have yet to be disappointed by his novels. This one follows a chess player, but you don’t have to know a single thing about how to play chess in order to enjoy it. It’s more about the mental states, and how imagining all the possible outcomes in a game can send your brain down an unending maze of possibilities.

Aside from Nabokov’s usual wonderful prose and lovable characters, I found the slow, creeping insanity that Luzhin endures to be very believable and a bit unsettling. And even though I saw the end coming, that didn’t lessen the impact and effectiveness of it.

Another great read, and anyone who hasn’t read Nabokov please pick up one of his books, you won’t regret it!

dying, now or later…

The Plague has been getting more interesting. One part I enjoyed was, as the characters are now all quarantined inside the town, and death is all around, one character is sitting in his house trying to write a book, and rewriting the same sentence for days and weeks, trying to find just the right words. He’s asking his friends for advice, agonizing over it, switching out words for similar ones, and then putting them back, and so on. All while hundreds of people are dying all around him every day.

But we’re all dying, right? Even if these characters survive the plague, they’ll just die five or ten or twenty years later. So why not spend your time fussing over the first sentence of a book you’ll never write?

Life is strange…

A cool glass of sweet water

Every time I finish a particularly difficult book, be it bad, or odd, or just confusing, I take a break with a Nabokov novel. They are always so clear and crisp and enjoyable, it’s like drinking a nice glass of cool water after a tiring time in the sun.

This time I’m reading the Luzhin Defense, the story of an anti-social, obsessive chess player who goes mad. As all Nabokov novels I’ve so far read, it is just a joy, and the prose is so delicious, my brain thanks me in much the way in thanks me for a good meal. And it always makes me smile, with little bits like this for example:

Little Luzhin would go away, trailing his satchel over the carpet; Luzhin senior would lean his elbow on the desk, where he was writing one of his usual stories in blue exercise books (a whim which, perhaps, some future biographer would appreciate), and listen to the monologue in the neighboring dining room, to his wife’s voice persuading the silence to drink a cup of cocoa.

Can you not just see that so clearly… the over optimistic father, the pouty child and coddling mother… all in just a few sentences.

Something about the way he writes is just very enjoyable and smilingly good for me…

 

Out, by Christine Brooke-Rose

What did I just read? I’m not quite sure.

At the end it became slightly intelligible that the POV character was of some higher or lower form of consciousness, and had a brain procedure performed on him. So that sheds a bit of light on the bizarre and confusing way this story was told.

One way to describe it is as a stream of consciousness of someone who is mentally unstable.

Some of the descriptions and ideas are quite beautiful and thoughtful, but they take a bit of work and thinking to figure out what the heck is being described sometimes.

Definitely not a book you can read without some effort, but I found the trouble to be worth it in the end.

uh oh, the French are at it again

I’ve started reading The Plague, by Albert Camus since I liked The Stranger so much, and …. sigh. It’s the same problem I had with Madame Bovary and to a lesser extent, Swan’s Way. There are no characters, and just descriptions of things happening in a very passive, drawn back way. I don’t know if this is a different translator than The Stranger, or what, but it’s a completely different style and not engaging at all.

It’s a fairly short novel, so I’m going to stick with it, but I’m getting all kinds of ‘what not to do’ ideas for my own writing while reading this…

I’m about 20% through it, so it still has time to get better. I keep waiting for it to ‘zoom in’ and start the story, but it might not ever do this. We’ll see…

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

I’ve broken my streak of giving up on French classics!

This was a short, and somewhat disturbing read. The story opens with the character, Meursault, stating that his mother has died, though he’s not exactly sure when, and then describes her funeral.

We soon find that the Meursault does not seem to have any emotional connection to anything that is happening around him. He does not cry at his mother’s funeral, or seem to feel much at all about it.

The only thing that seems to get much of a reaction out of Meursault at all is the heat. He feels more about the heat while walking during the funeral procession, than he does his mother’s death.

As the story progresses, Meursault ends up helping a friend, Raymond, exact a pretty gross revenge on his lover. He does this without really thinking about it, and only on his second time meeting Raymond.

This cruel revenge leads the lovers brother to attack Raymond at the beach where they are vacationing. Meursault is present for the altercation, but doesn’t seem to feel or care much about it, except that he doesn’t want to be around the women (Meursault’s girlfriend and another guest) who are very upset by the incident. Here too, the heat is the only thing that phases him. The hot sun reflecting off the water and burning and oppressing him makes it hard for him to think. But he’d rather be outside in the sun, than inside with the upset women, so he goes for a walk out in the sun, which leads eventually to his predicament.

He finds, that in blind delirium brought on by the sun, he’s shot the man Raymond was feuding with.

The novel then continues with his arrest and sentencing, and time in prison. During all of it, the only thing that that seems to illicit any kind of reaction from him, is when the courtroom is over hot.

The end of this book, and Meursault’s thoughts on the inevitability of death had a anxious, upsetting affect on me, and I found myself connecting with this empty character in several ways. Mainly, his fear not of death itself, but his frustration with the inevitability of it, the lack of hope or means of escape.

There were many parallels to Crime and Punishment in this story, but unlike Roskolnikov, whose paranoia and guilt and nervousness lead to his capture, it is exactly the opposite for Meursault–his coolness and emotionless reaction to everything and everyone around him are his demise.

Very interesting, and somewhat upsetting read.