The Metamorphosis and The Trial
by Franz Kafka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I would like to give the first story, "Metamorphosis" four stars and "The Trial" three. As there is no way to split my rating, three it is for the whole shmeer.
"Metamorphosis", the story of a man named Gregor Samsa who awakens one morning to discover that he has changed into a verminous insect, was surprisingly--for me, at least--funny. Samsa continues to fixate on dreary daily minutia instead of directly reacting to the horror of his situation. He concentrates on how to get out of bed, how to deal with his employers who want to know why he isn't at his job, and what his family's situation is as far as finances and what changes they may make to his room. He never just goes GAH, I'm A FREAKING INSECT! And so, the absurdity is pretty amusing, even if his situation is disgusting. I was also (darkly) amused by the ending, which I won't give away, but which says a lot about how the author feels that people deal with crises.
As for "The Trial", I found it much harder to read. It is just as bleak and dark, but without the humor. A man named Josef K. is placed under arrest for an unspecified crime. He spends the rest of the novella trying to navigate his murky legal troubles and the ill-lit, obscure, suffocating places he must go in order to try to save himself. Throughout, every human interaction K. has is weighted one way or the other; he either has no power, or exercises his own power over others, usually women. That latter fact made it hard for me to feel too badly for K. in his plight, as he could be more disagreeable than even his bureaucratic tormentors. I *was* amused by the god-like lawyer Dr. Huld who , laying in bed, turns his back on a supplicant named Block as Block kneels and entreats him to help him and not dismiss him. And indeed, it is a churchman who tells K. a story containing a riddle near the end of the book. I will just say that there are certainly themes at work here which are beyond my ken. I won't pretend, here, that I understood it all. In fact, I was assigned to read "The Trial" in high school but was unable to read it then. As with many other books I could not read at the time, I have come back to it, lo these many years later, and read it because I wanted to.
A note on the layout: whether it is because of the age of the book, or some other reason, there are few paragraph breaks. Full conversations are unbroken and sometimes hard to follow because of that. The entire book is just unbroken block of text after unbroken block of text, which was wearying to this reader. Nonetheless, I am glad to have now read these two stories, though I can only honestly recommend the first one.
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