A land-surveyor, known only as K., arrives at a small village permanently covered in snow and dominated by a castle to which access seems permanently denied. K.'s attempts to discover why he has been called constantly run up against the peasant villagers, who are in thrall to the absurd bureaucracy that keeps the castle shut, and the rigid hierarchy of power among the self-serving bureaucrats themselves. But in this strange wilderness, there is passion, tenderness and considerable humour. Darkly bizarre, this complex book was the last novel by one of the 20th century's greatest and most influential writers.
Public Domain (P)2010 Naxos Audiobooks
So far (haven’t finished) I like this reading much better than George Guidall's or Geoffrey Howard's. Allan Corduner uses his deep, rough voice (breaking like a well rosined cello) with a coquette’s liveliness. Very striking. So much on the reading.
As for this David Whiting translation, I think it is available only in this audio book format. The Muir translation is supposed to be smoother and more poetic than Kafka’s original. The more recent Breon Mitchell’s is said to be most literal, but can be somewhat awkward. I think Whiting’s is somewhere in the middle. Compare these.
German: Lange stand K. auf der Holzbruecke, die von der Landstrasse zum Dorf fuehrte, und blickte in die scheinbare Leere empor.
Breon Mitchell: K. stood a long time on the wooden bridge that leads from the main road to the village, gazing upward into the seeming emptiness.
David Whiting (this audio book): For a long time K. stood on the wooden bridge that led from the country road to the village looking up into the apparent void.
Edwin Muir: On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village, K. stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness above him.
The book itself I think is the greatest among Kafka’s works, or at least most Kafkaesque in both substance and technique. (Sorry. Too involved to back that up.) But there are technical imperfections such as the excessive use of long speeches and internal reflections. More substantively, the book can seem poorly motivated in places, even if you grant that one’s standing with the castle is the paramount concern for every character. I have a problem with the two assistants, who look like unfortunate props that somehow got in and obliged the author to use them.
This novel, I am told, like many others by the author, is the first draft with minimal corrections. It is doubtful the piece would have retained much of the current form had he reworked it. Unfortunate that he didn’t get to do it; not as if that went against his grain necessarily; he did publish stories in his life time (I am assuming he polished those). Unedited though, the piece obviously lets you into the author’s mind the way no polished work can.
Some of my favorite passage of this book are the opening scene (until K. falls asleep), the bath day scene with the wan “girl from the castle,” the trek though snow and the arrival at Barnabas’s parental home, interview with Momus (from courtyard to outdoors again), the chance meeting with Frieda in Herrenhof after the breakup.
Olga’s long explanations about Amalia seem extremely artificial and strained to me, something I think Kafka would have dismantled had he come back to it.
Of the 150 plus books I have listened to this was the most unsatisfying. It is as if Kafka set out to prove he could write a novel about nothing. The characters babble on endlessly speculating about and explaining the most inane rationalizations that are all meaningless and boring. Not sure why the book doesn't have an ending, whether Kafka died in the midst of writing the novel or just got bored with all the meaningless dialogue and stopped at the end of a sentence. The audio file does include a summation that explains Kafka had planned for his protagonist to die of exhaustion. Thankfully this listener was spared.
A great book, well read. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Please be aware, though, the book is unfinished.
"Marmite for the ears"
If you haven’t read any Kafka, you probably should, just because he’s one of a kind. Nobody pitches the reader so effortlessly into a world that seems normal enough but turns out surreally nightmarish. That’s not to say he’s everyone’s cup of tea. If you like action, you’ll find precious little: ‘The Castle’ comes from the same school of plot development as ‘Waiting for Godot’, and you may be driven to distraction by the interminable witterings of the four women in the life of K (the central character) that pad out much of the book. But if your taste is more for Tarkovsky than Tarantino, you’ll adore Kafka’s way of getting nowhere very slowly. And you can take pleasure along the way in working out whether ‘The Castle’ is a satire of Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy, or an allegory of the fruitless search for religious salvation, or just an answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. What’s certain is that, once you’ve visited Kafka’s world, you won’t forget it.
What I personally didn’t like about this production was the choice of narrator. Allan Corduner reads expressively and has a good command of German pronunciation. But he speaks with a lisp, and his voice has the soft edge of an older man. This makes him an ideal candidate to read Dickens; but, for my money, he makes ‘The Castle’ sound much less portentous than it should, and K nothing like grim enough. To be fair, there’s an academic school of thought that says Kafka had more of a sense of humour than you’d think, and his works ought to sound like he’s pulling legs. But, to me, it felt like casting Robin Williams as Hamlet: not inexplicable, but not that clever either. By comparison it seems churlish to mention that, though it’s ok that some locals are made to speak in a West Country accent and others a Welsh one in the same village, a teacher does flip in one scene from one to the other, and then back again. You’d have thought a good producer would notice such things.
One of the best.
Very funny description of the main character, K, waking up in the night to find one of his assistants in bed with him instead of his wife, and then having to deal with the aftermath of this incident the next morning.
An excellent reader, reminding me of Jon Pertwee in style.
It is both funny and sad, but creates a menacing tone throughout.
"Not my idea of a good read"
I have to be honest and say that, although this was superbly read, I was irritated with the story and I borrowed a copy of the print version just so I could skim to the end and claim I'd read it.
What does it mean? For me it was exactly like one of those horrible, involved dreams where you can't get anywhere, or do anything, and there is a lingering sense of menace.
Everything, he's a really good performer and I'd happily listen to him again.
I was moved to tears of relief when I finally "finished" it.
Despite not enjoying it at all, it's nearly a year since I listened to it and I can still remember a lot about it and I still think about it - perhaps that's why it is considered a masterpiece?
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