A remote village covered almost permanently in snow and dominated by a castle and its staff of dictatorial, sexually predatory bureaucrats - this is the setting for Kafka's story about a man seeking both acceptance in the village and access to the castle. Kafka breaks new ground in evoking a dense village community fraught wiht tensions, and recounting an often poignant, occasionally farcical love-affair. He also explores the relation between the individual andpower, and asks why the villagers so readily submit to an authority which may exist only in their collective imagination.Published only after Kafka's death, The Castle appeared inthe same decade as modernist masterpieces by Eliot, Joyce, Woolf, Mann and Proust, and is among the central works of modern literature. This translation follows the text established by critical scholarship, and manuscript variants are mentioned in the notes. The introduction provides guidance to the text without reducing the reader's own freedom to make sense of this fascinatingly enigmatic novel.
Overall, it's a pity the book was unfinished, cause I was finally starting to get into it. For those who don't know, the book literally ends in mid-sentence.
The main character K. speaks for Kafka's obvious hatred for bureaucracy and authority. Toward the end of the book, (who knows where that really is in relation to the story it intended to be) you start learning some interesting facts (purely opinions, because there are no facts in his world) that really shape the book and could change the way you look at the story, but unfortunately it was never expounded on... so one never knows where Kafka could had gone with this.
This was somewhat strange. It's never quite clear what is true and what isn't. Everything is open to interpretation. The main character is an incommer, who views the situation in the village very differently from the locals. There are many rules and customs that make the villagers seem brainwashed in comparison to the incommer. The presence of the castle - the seat of power - is always mysterious and threatening, even sinister.
I'm still not sure, but I do know that, as a piece of fiction, "The Castle" is very impressive.
As a side-note, it's with some sadness that I saw my library redeveloped a few years back. It wasn't a real redevelopment - now they have computers and such - but what changed about five years was the removal of one little carousel, stuck at the end of an aisle where it didn't really belong, that was crowded with foreign books. I discovered Kafka there, and Lem too; how I wish I could make more discoveries like those so innocently, and without such precipitous expectations!
He meets Freida at one of the bars and after a tumble under one of the tables they end up engaged and living together. They are thrown out of the bar after the landlady falls out with K who generally seems to misunderstand and rub everyone up the wrong way. They end up living in a school room which is less than ideal with K's two unwanted assistants who keep getting him in more and more trouble!
It's a strange novel and I never quite understood why K didn't just leave. There seemed no point in staying and I am sure he said he had a family (which I assumed meant wife) at the start. I liked the Barnabas character and his two sisters who unforatunely didn't get on with Freida at all. It's a shame it was never finished, it ends in the middle of a sentence in fact. I would love to have seen how it all played out and what became of K.
"You can't get there from here."
"But I need to go the castle!"
"You can't get there from here."
I hated this book.
I did enjoy and find rather relatable Kafka's themes of the absurdity of a nontransparent, yet subtly out-of-control bureaucracy; the absurdity of the the status quo; and how people can have such different, yet thoroughly thought-out perspectives, possibly stemming from deeply ingrained biases.
The process of reading Kafka is part of its point. As K goes nowhere, so too does the book. It's really quite maddening, but I respect it.
Kafka seems to be describing an issue of society, where people become trapped within roles and find that free will is limited to a narrow path by the potential detrimental consequences of straying from that path.
The interesting part is there is a suggestion that The Castle also appears to be made up of individuals fulfilling set roles, and this leads to the tantalising suggestion that that there is nobody in overall charge. Does the Village dictate the actions of the Castle as much as the other way around?
How free really is an individual government official, president, prime minister or even dictator to steer society away from a potentially self-destructive course? Are they constantly restricted by the role they play and the potential unwanted consequences of every small action? They can't alter the big picture because of the instability generated in even effecting a small change.
There was also a comedy series produced here a few years ago called “Yes Minister”, in which a government minister rapidly discovered that every noble action he tried to perform had unforeseen consequences that ended up in disaster. Kafka has this to say about the officials in “The Castle”:
"How can a single official issue a pardon? At best that could only be done by the authorities as a whole, but even they can't issue a pardon, only come to a decision."
I think the problem as Kafka saw it wasn't with individuals but in the societies we inevitably construct. Without building cooperative societies we could not have progressed to the point we have, but they also develop a momentum of their own which restricts us as individuals and can lead us down potentially collectively self-destructive paths. There is not yet a perfect society, only ones balanced on a knife edge which are less bad than others.
It's the paradox of both needing the construct of society and being controlled by it that Kafka describes so brilliantly. Society itself effectively becomes an entity which is outside anyone's control.
The interesting question is whether literature merely reflects changes that are already occurring in society or if writers, like Kafka, are actually driving that change. I kind of suspect the latter.
Joseph K. (the protagonist) arrives in a village and struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities who govern it from a castle.
K. believes that he's been invited to a town to do some land surveying, and realises upon his arrival that his invitation was maybe the result of a bureaucratic mishap. K. wants answers from the officials at the castle that overlooks the town.
This book is about bureaucracy, meaning, connection, relationships, and how hierarchy impacts the way we experience and live in this world.
It may be an unfinished work, but it is an amazing book that can test your conception of the real purpose in your life.
The Castle is probably my least favorite of Kafka's major unfinished works, perhaps in part because it seems to be the most unfinished of them. It is similar to The Trial in some ways, but also different in some interesting respects. While the story in The Trial involved endless, mind-numbing bureaucracy with regard to one particular aspect of life, namely the legal system, in the world of The Castle that bureaucracy is expanded to encompass ALL aspects of life, such that life itself becomes unlivable even if one is not accused of any wrongdoing. So The Castle is rather broader, but thus loses the focus of a work like The Trial (on the issue of guilt, in that case)...and that broadness seems to have fomented Kafka's tendency toward vagueness.
The Castle also feels somewhat rambling---there are some amusing or thought-provoking parts, but in general it just doesn't seem to be going anywhere. That's kind of the point, of course, but after a while it just starts to drag. It didn't seem that well-written for Kafka either, but I don't know how much of that is due to Mark Harman's translation of this edition and how much to the rough state of Kafka's original drafts.
On the whole, worth reading perhaps once, but some of Kafka's other work is better.
I am going to start this review by openly and only somewhat abashedly noting that the reason I gave this book such a low rating is because I flat out did not understand what was going on the majority of the time. Kafka is known for being surreal and writing in a dream-like logic, but this book crossed a line for me. While I enjoyed both The Metamorphosis and The Trial, The Castle dragged on far too long for me without ever seeming to make a point. My research on the book points to various themes of the book: religion/salvation (which I did not see at all); isolation/alienation (yes, it's there but c'mon already, how many long dialogues do we need to get that K and the Barnabas family don't fit in?); and bureaucratic red tape (which The Trial already covered perfectly). But, as I hinted out above, the book just went on for too long to make me care any longer about trying to suss out what on earth Kafka was talking about anymore. There is no real action in the book and little by the way of "showing" in the narration. Rather, the book is just one long series of monologues with characters going on and on about the Castle and its inhabitants, often contradicting themselves as their speeches droned on interminably. There's only so much a reader can take of yet another character saying something about how K doesn't know how things work in the village and how wonderful the Castle officials are, no matter how unattainable they may be.
Some readers have noted that this book is "funny," presumably in a dark humor/satirical way, but sadly I did not find that to be true for the vast majority of the text. Again, the narrative really seemed to drag at times, and I lost a lot of interest by the half-way point, after which I was just ready for it to end. When the book did finally conclude - if you can call a unfinished sentence a conclusion - I was just happy it was over (although that was mixed with annoyance that the end was uncompleted!).
I recognize that Kafka was ill and dying when he wrote this book and that he asked that his unfinished manuscripts be destroyed upon his death; therefore this criticism of the novel is somewhat unfair as the author was unable to revise, edit down the superfluous dialogue, fix the strange POV/tense change near the end, etc. Nevertheless, as this book is highly praised as a "must-read" classic, I looked at it through that critical lens and was deeply disappointed. The audio version with the equally praised narrator George Guidall did little to remedy the situation. I found Guidall a dull reader who only added to my attitude of "hurry-up-and-be-done" regarding this book. I'd very much recommend The Metamorphosis, The Trial, or even the short stories to anyone interested in reading Kafka for the first time, but I'd steer people away from this book personally. Just my two cents.