Lined up in my readings are novels of Kafka, whom critics have long tended to see as a modernist master on par with Joyce, Proust, and Picasso. Metamorphoses was on most high school reading lists but unfortunately, that would be the only reading of Kafka most readers will ever be exposed to. Kafka’s grim subject matter is as difficult to read as Proust’s overwrought style. So much torture, description of wounds, disorientation, sadomasochism, unexplained cruelty, appearance of rodents, beetles, vultures, and other grotesque creatures—all set out against a background of utter hopelessness.
The Castle is Kafka at his most beautiful and, perhaps, his most emotional. The Trial and Metamorphoses are full of their own depth, and their own complicated sadness, but they don’t strike the heart with the same poignancy as Kafka’s final, unfathomable novel. The Castle is the story of K, who claims to be a Land Surveyor, sent by someone unknown, for some purpose unknown, to the Castle, itself an unknown quantity. What K is supposed to accomplish we never discover. Rather than a narrative that moves towards any substantive satisfaction, Kafka presents the reader with a series of frustrations, K trying again and again to progress his work, but never moving beyond the Castle’s snowy environs.
Kafka is not difficult to read (especially after Proust and Joyce), because he employs a style of utmost calm, lucidity, and simplicity. The surface narrative, is deceptive. He is trying to suggest, using familiar images and seemingly commonplace episodes, the disturbed condition of modern man.