This collection of stories contains work that was published while Franz Kafka was alive in various places including books, magazines and journals. There is a further collection coming out at the end of February published by Penguin, The Great Wall of China, which is a collection of stories that were published after his death.
The most famous story among the collection here is Metamorphosis, and it is easy to forget just how disturbing it is not just because of the transformation of Gregor but also the attitude his family takes towards him and how quickly they forget.
There are two types of story here broadly the light and the dark. In the first category the tale of the Aeroplanes at Brescia is a wistful tale admiring the great men and their flying machines. But overwhelmingly the stories fall into the later category. Alongside Metamorphosis the stories A Judgement, The Stoker and some of the Country Doctor’s tales, particularly the first one, have the power to really disturb working to a narrative pattern all of Kafka’s own and tilting the difference between right and wrong in a way that challenges your own perceptions.
Is it well written?
There are moments when you feel you going through the same experience you get watching a horror film – not knowing what will happen next, but bracing yourself for something nasty. But Kafka has the ability to catch you unawares with stories like A Judgement and hit you with an ending that can take your breath away. The one downside is that some of the stories are so short you feel they would have benefited from a little more length.
Should it be read?
Short stories are a format that Eastern European writers are well known for and as proven here have the power to provoke a lasting impression even in a short space of pages. The normal excuse that there are too many pages can not apply to a collection like this and of course you can start anywhere without having to strictly go from cover to cover. It deserves to be read by anyone prepared to be provoked into challenging the way they think.
Version read – Penguin classics paperback