“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
– Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
It has been a while since the last book review, but today, it is here! Hopefully, that’s good news 😀 (pardon the low resolution image, I will improve it next week when I return to my place where the internet connection is better!)
Actually, this book is the reason why my reading progress was kind of sluggish (more on that later). Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis and Other Stories” is a collection of novellas and short stories written by Franz Kafka, including renowned tales such as “The Metamorphosis”, “The Penal Colony”, “A Country Doctor”, “Fratricide”, “The Hunger Artist”, and many others. Each tales are independent without any direct correlation to the other stories, and I believe that is a good thing since one can read a chapter at a time without having to remember the details from the other sections. One thing before going into the review, though, in this review, I would not be directly analyzing “The Metamorphosis” or the other short stories since that would require a lot of details, explanations, and close readings which I plan to share in my future posts, so this would purely be about reviews and my general thoughts about the book. That being said, feel free to read on! 😀
“The Metamorphosis” is the ‘main course’ for me; being the longest story in the book, it is also the most interesting. One morning, a salesman named Gregor Samsa woke up in his bed as a monstrous insect. When the company’s secretary and his parents inquire about his presence, Gregor would have to come to terms with his new body and a new life, while his family would have to adapt living with a grotesque bug. Gradually, Gregor gets used to his lifestyle of crawling and hiding about, but his family’s treatments and warmth towards him slowly fade away.
The story of “The Metamorphosis” is certainly interesting, since we get to witness the shift of the characters’ emotions and feelings, mainly the Samsa family’s; when one’s “self-worth” is measured by financial income and the benefits they bring to the community, there are bound to be changes of personality and treatment when such values diminish. By being isolated, Gregor experiences anguish and even anger; the readers get to listen to Gregor’s thoughts and his conflicting psyche regarding his inability to explicitly communicate with his distancing beloved family members. These changes provide conflicts and shifts of characters, which brings out engagement and deeper storytelling which are always welcomed for me! 😀
Kafka’s works have always been considered as memorable and influential, mainly through their masterful display of alienation, the authority’s naked power, and the mundane arbitrariness of bureaucracy through their absurdity (creating the term ‘Kafkaesque’). Despite being prominent in this book, those elements are not the sole themes of Kafka’s other sketches; in the book’s first tale, “Children on a Country Road”, for example, Kafka deals with innocence and the possible blindness of city life; in “Men Running Past”, individualism and the principle of probabilities. Therefore, the book is like a tome of analysis!
When a story is full of symbols, allegories, or even subtle parables to be analyzed, expect a multi-interpretative nature. The multi-interpretative trait of Kafka’s stories are both a good and bad trait depending on the types of readers. For those liking classics or those who like interpret literature, Kafka’s stories are pure wonder; Kafka provides detailed emotional thoughts, setting explanations, and even absurd occurrences depending on the stories read (as each have their own details), giving the reader plenty to think about. Some stories are so short that they consist of two to five sentences! Nevertheless, the absurdity or the over-simplicity of the story only makes them deeper. In this book, complexity means complexity, and simplicity means complexity. Nonsensical? yes, and it is your decision on whether to make some sense out of them or not!
Now, this is my reason on why I read slowly; after finishing each story, I would spend a lot of time pondering on the possible meaning and message the story is trying to deliver, and I don’t even understand what a number of tales mean (I will re-read some puzzling stories from time to time so that maybe I can understand them more…). The good thing is, I consider this version of Kafka’s works to be more accessible in terms of language; Christopher Moncrieff has done a great job in using contemporary words and accessible sentence structures compared to the other translations (there are still a number of convoluted passages, but that is due to Kafka’s original detailed, elaborate writing).
For those desiring a quick, leisurely read, however, Kafka may not be that author for you. Certainly, there are stories short enough to fulfill that reading style, but they may not that ‘fulfilling’ for casual readers since they are lacking in plot development, and some do not even have any plot at all! In the short story “Eleven Sons”, a narrator simply describes the personalities and traits of his sons in tremendous detail along with his opinion towards them, and that is all the story is about. Therefore, while stories like “The Metamorphosis” and “A Country Doctor” can amuse all readers in my opinion, most of Kafka’s works in this book just don’t fulfill the standard expectation of most casual readers.
Some of Kafka’s stories are certainly amusing, such as “A Report for an Academy”, where an ape explains his experience leading to his growth of intelligence to be on par with that of human’s XD , or “The Sentence” (also known as “The Judgment”) where psychological conflicts and the figure of authority are discussed, but most of the stories here provide more perplexity rather than entertainment. Therefore, I do believe that “The Metamorphosis and Other Stories” is a book about exploring Kafka’s thoughts about the society or even himself in a remarkably subtle, symbolic, or occasionally, allegorical manner. Here, entertainment is merely a side-dish.
When you read it with a general idea of what to expect, and a mind that enjoys interpreting the hidden meaning in weird, enigmatic tales, as well as the patience to do so, then Franz Kafka is the author for you; you will find many questions in the book, but barely any answers; for the answers, you would have to create them inside your mind and nobody can know for sure whether they are truly the correct answers or not. For me personally, I enjoyed most of the book, although not its entirety since there are more than plenty of its surreal stories for me to return to and attempt to understand further.
Rating from me: 4/5
Have you read “The Metamorphosis” or Kafka’s other stories before? Tell us your opinion about it! 😀