Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I have always wanted to read this, I think partially because so many modern authors cite Kafka as an influence.  I guess I always thought that Kafka was one of those writers that is often quoted and cited as much by reputation as anything else.  And I think I might have assumed that I wouldn't find his writing accessible.  I was wrong, I really enjoyed this novella, or longish short story; it's a weird and wonderful tale.

The Metamorphosis, originally written in German, is a novella in three parts that charts the changing relationship of a young man, Gregor, with his family.  The story opens with him waking up one morning to find he has been transformed into a large, bug-like insect.  Gregor has spent the previous five years working to support his parents and younger sister, in a job he doesn't like.  His transformation forces his family to change.  I think this is the underlying thrust of the story.

The story is told in a very understated, matter of fact, third person narrative, from the perspective of Gregor.  The writing is deceptively simple and this certainly adds to the horror of Gregor's plight.  Gregor does not seem all that alarmed by becoming an insect, certainly not at the beginning.  He is more worried about what his boss will think because he has missed his train.  His passivity is frustrating, but I am sure that is the point.

I loved how Kafka simply, but surely, creates this bug transformation.  It is so real!  Kafka thinks of everything, and absolutely convinces the reader of what it would be like to find oneself trying to survive in your bedroom, at the mercy of your family, as a giant bug.  All the little details, like the mobility challenges, the eating challenges, are recreated in this rather engrossing and disturbing tale.  China Mieville has similar weirdly transformed human-animal, human-machine characters in some of his novels.

In short, I found myself enjoying The Metamorphosis on a couple of levels.  It is both simple and complicated.  The story is plainly and dispassionately told, which increases the impact of what has happened to Gregor one hundred fold.  The themes are complex, and I am sure I have not figured it all out.  I certainly think it is some sort of cautionary tale, that also must relate to the era it was published in (1915), about making oneself a slave to others at the expense of one's own needs.

If you are like I was, and thought that Kafka, might be a bit much, I would encourage you to read this, it doesn't take long, and it is absorbing and entirely original. Reading The Metamorphosis makes me curious about Kafka, he must have been quite an individual, way ahead, or at the very least, outside, of his time and his surrounds. I look forward to learning more about him.