Book reviews

Reading The Trial by Frank Kafka gives the reader the feeling of being in a nightmare, one where strange things happen which they believe to be true and real even though they don’t make any sense, leaving them feeling frustrated and anxious and confused. At least, that’s how the reading experience was for me.

And yet, I liked it.

I have never read anything by Kafka as I thought his books would be full of clever ideas that I wouldn’t be able to understand. Instead, the writing was perfectly clear and I could easily follow the story, even if I didn’t understand why the main character was caught up in his living nightmare any more than he did.

Josef K (his surname was never told, which gave the story and the trial itself a surreptitious feel from the very beginning) began the story in bed on the morning of his thirtieth birthday as he waited to be served his breakfast. When it didn’t come he rang his bell, but instead of receiving breakfast a strange man entered his room and Josef K learned he was being arrested for a crime which was never explained.

Eventually the strange man and his colleague departed leaving Josef K free to go about his day. He continued to attend his job at a bank and live his normal life the following week, all the time knowing that he was under arrest and had a trial to face. The following Sunday Josef K travelled through his city to the address he had been given for the court, which he found in the attic of a confusingly maze-like suburban house. In front of the judge and a large number of onlookers Josef K protested that the trial and the accusation against him were silly.

As the story progressed it became more and more absurd, in the way of a nightmare. Josef K tried visiting the presiding judge in an attempt to try to sway him to end the case, but instead became amourously engaged with the wife of one of the court’s attendants, then the woman’s husband took Josef K on a tour of the court building where he became emotionally and physically overwhelmed inside the airless, hot rooms.

Eventually Josef K became mired in bureaucracy, working fruitlessly to bringing his trial to an end. All the while inexplicable and strange things continued to happen, none of which he questioned even though these events made no sense at all.

While I think a lot of the ideas that the author was trying to get across sailed right over my head, I’m glad I found the courage to put this book on my Classics Club list. Kafka created a nightmare which anyone who has ever been caught up in seemingly pointless and endless amounts of red tape will recognise. The Trial also reminds anyone who has ever been involved in a court case that there are no winners in court and that there isn’t an answer to every question, or a clear reason for everything that happens.

Even though I still think the ideas in The Trial were mostly too ‘hard’ for me to understand, I enjoyed the story and the author’s writing style very much.

The Trial was book twenty nine in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Comments on: "The Trial by Franz Kafka" (4)

  1. I read Metamorphosis years ago and thought I would never read another Kafka, but you’ve intrigued me – in some ways it reminded me of Seize The Day which I read earlier this year. It’s interesting with these ‘hard’ books isn’t it, I always think I’m missing something if I’m enjoying it! I think it’s enough that you were absorbed and enjoying his writing. I want to say Well Done, but I don’t know if that sounds patronising (which it’s not supposed to, just admiring!)

    • I don’t feel at all patronised, instead I feel quite pleased with myself šŸ˜‰
      I don’t know if I’ll ever tackle Metamorphosis because the plot doesn’t appeal, but never say never… I’m off to reread your review of Seize the Day now.

  2. Maybe it is all open to interpretation but we know he was very troubled and the events in The Trial are his own mind ganging up against him. Otherwise it’s the essence of bureaucracy and the power of the state over the individual.

    • The madness of bureaucracy was definitely a feature. I wonder if writing about depressing and confusing circumstances added to his own mental health issues, or if he found it helped.

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