Category: Norman Mailer

Bad sex from Mailer

Maybe it’s an odd last word to have on Mailer and Castle in the Forest but the decision by the Literary Review to award the recently deceased writer this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award for a scene between Hitler’s mother and father is apt. No doubt the problem was not deciding on Mailer but knowing which of the many crude sex scenes from his book to choose from.

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Bad sex from Mailer

Maybe it’s an odd last word to have on Mailer and Castle in the Forest but the decision by the Literary Review to award the recently deceased writer this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award for a scene between Hitler’s mother and father is apt. No doubt the problem was not deciding on Mailer but knowing which of the many crude sex scenes from his book to choose from.

book review – Castle in the Forest


There have been hundreds of books about Adolf Hitler all not only detailing how he came to power and what he did once he got there but also trying to get to the bottom of the dictator. Because of his anti-Semitic views, the holocaust and his wilful destruction of millions of lives he rates pretty highly on the evil index. So it is a brave author who decides to put Hitler as one of the main characters in a novel. Norman Mailer does take that on and then to make it even more uncomfortable hurls a fair amount of abuse at the reader.

On the positive side Mailer not only gets you to think about where Hitler’s evilness came from but also makes you ask some questions about the nature and nurture debate as well as provoking thoughts about good and evil in the form of the devil and god. You are forced to dwell on the dark side and conclude that if someone is exposed to brutality in the form of parental abuse and sibling rivalry along with a helping hand from a demon then they might well go onto become an evil dictator. The problem is that Mailer overdoes the darkness and you find yourself being put off by old men who like young boys, mothers obsessed by the faeces and the arseholes of their children and fathers who sleep with their daughters.

The problem is that everyone bar Hitler’s stepsister Angela and his brother Edward all come across as susceptible to the grotesque and Hitler almost gets lost in the line-up. There is also an odd tangent where Mailer’s narrator demon heads of to the coronation of Nicholas the last Tsar. The point seems to be that the devil was busy looking at the bigger picture sowing the seeds of destruction that would lead to the Second World War. The fact he was making it difficult for the Tsar and thereby preparing the way for Stalin implies that he was backing both evil dictators.

This might not be that difficult to read in terms of clearly signposted chapters and a reasonable argument for why the focus is Hitler’s family. The downside is that the book backs off just as Hitler starts to get interesting and close to the man he was to become. It also keeps suggesting that all of the seeds of hatred were planted early on – the bees being gassed by sulphur, the swastika over the monastery school entrance – but a great deal of Hitler’s political thought was shaped by his experiences and response to the German defeat in the First World War.

This book got quite a few plaudits from the book reviewers when it came out and Mailer worked the circuit and most I heard or read applauded the bravery of choosing such a potentially challenging subject. But there is not that much of a story here other than the straight forward one that details the incestuous background of Hitler and exposing how demons work and what they do for their clients.

In fact that is the only real leap of the imagination. The rest could almost be a historical novel expect for the occasions relapses into perverted territory. If you buy into the idea that Hitler was shaped by the devil and a demon could have the possibility of writing a memoir about it then this is a solid go at describing what that world might look like. But that asks the reader to exercise the same sort of suspension of disbelief that you are expected to exercise when you go to the cinema. Because of the nature of reading, that tends to happen over several days, it is hard to maintain the illusion that this is a devil’s memoir and the more that process takes the more the cracks start to show.

This was a tough book to read and one that was certainly not one that was enjoyable but maybe it wasn’t meant to be and that’s why Mailer can be so frustrating.

book review – Castle in the Forest


There have been hundreds of books about Adolf Hitler all not only detailing how he came to power and what he did once he got there but also trying to get to the bottom of the dictator. Because of his anti-Semitic views, the holocaust and his wilful destruction of millions of lives he rates pretty highly on the evil index. So it is a brave author who decides to put Hitler as one of the main characters in a novel. Norman Mailer does take that on and then to make it even more uncomfortable hurls a fair amount of abuse at the reader.

On the positive side Mailer not only gets you to think about where Hitler’s evilness came from but also makes you ask some questions about the nature and nurture debate as well as provoking thoughts about good and evil in the form of the devil and god. You are forced to dwell on the dark side and conclude that if someone is exposed to brutality in the form of parental abuse and sibling rivalry along with a helping hand from a demon then they might well go onto become an evil dictator. The problem is that Mailer overdoes the darkness and you find yourself being put off by old men who like young boys, mothers obsessed by the faeces and the arseholes of their children and fathers who sleep with their daughters.

The problem is that everyone bar Hitler’s stepsister Angela and his brother Edward all come across as susceptible to the grotesque and Hitler almost gets lost in the line-up. There is also an odd tangent where Mailer’s narrator demon heads of to the coronation of Nicholas the last Tsar. The point seems to be that the devil was busy looking at the bigger picture sowing the seeds of destruction that would lead to the Second World War. The fact he was making it difficult for the Tsar and thereby preparing the way for Stalin implies that he was backing both evil dictators.

This might not be that difficult to read in terms of clearly signposted chapters and a reasonable argument for why the focus is Hitler’s family. The downside is that the book backs off just as Hitler starts to get interesting and close to the man he was to become. It also keeps suggesting that all of the seeds of hatred were planted early on – the bees being gassed by sulphur, the swastika over the monastery school entrance – but a great deal of Hitler’s political thought was shaped by his experiences and response to the German defeat in the First World War.

This book got quite a few plaudits from the book reviewers when it came out and Mailer worked the circuit and most I heard or read applauded the bravery of choosing such a potentially challenging subject. But there is not that much of a story here other than the straight forward one that details the incestuous background of Hitler and exposing how demons work and what they do for their clients.

In fact that is the only real leap of the imagination. The rest could almost be a historical novel expect for the occasions relapses into perverted territory. If you buy into the idea that Hitler was shaped by the devil and a demon could have the possibility of writing a memoir about it then this is a solid go at describing what that world might look like. But that asks the reader to exercise the same sort of suspension of disbelief that you are expected to exercise when you go to the cinema. Because of the nature of reading, that tends to happen over several days, it is hard to maintain the illusion that this is a devil’s memoir and the more that process takes the more the cracks start to show.

This was a tough book to read and one that was certainly not one that was enjoyable but maybe it wasn’t meant to be and that’s why Mailer can be so frustrating.

The Castle in the Forest – post IX

At last this book is over. That might sound unfair but it has felt like being taught history by someone determined to make you feel sick. Mailer really knows how to get your attention but you do come to the end of this book with the view that it could have been written without some of the sexual and bodily functional detail.

When this book came out everyone focused on the Hitler story, which is the main crux of the book apart from an odd diversion into Russia, but in my recollection, certainly of radio interviews with Mailer no one asked him why he obsessed with erections, masturbation, faeces, homosexuality and incest. No doubt those questions were not hinted at on the press release plus most interviewers had probably not read the book.

If they had they would have come to the end and sat back and agreed that if a demon had been involved with hand picking and helping Adolf Hitler grow up to become the dictator and Jew killing monster of the 1930s and 1940s then this is how it might have read as a memoir. But at the same time Hitler is just one of a cast of odd dark characters that implies if anything that it was almost impossible to come through a youthful existence in Austria in the 1890s without being severely damaged.

With death all around, parents that struggled and failed to break the bounds of a class system it is no wonder that Hitler grew up full of resentment and hatred.

The final section of the book covers the breakdown of the relationship between Adolf and his father and the latter’s death leaving the family reasonably well off but Hitler in power. He is an academic failure, a drifter who has a strong belief in his own ability and is left by Mailer in a position where all the tendency’s are there to make him a Nazi but there is a lot still left to do to get him there.

A difficult book to read because it was far from enjoyable. Mailer must have wanted to evoke a response of disgust and he manages to do that several time. While that might tie in with the theme of the devil and the darkness it hardly makes it an enjoyable experience.

A review will follow soon…

The Castle in the Forest – post IX

At last this book is over. That might sound unfair but it has felt like being taught history by someone determined to make you feel sick. Mailer really knows how to get your attention but you do come to the end of this book with the view that it could have been written without some of the sexual and bodily functional detail.

When this book came out everyone focused on the Hitler story, which is the main crux of the book apart from an odd diversion into Russia, but in my recollection, certainly of radio interviews with Mailer no one asked him why he obsessed with erections, masturbation, faeces, homosexuality and incest. No doubt those questions were not hinted at on the press release plus most interviewers had probably not read the book.

If they had they would have come to the end and sat back and agreed that if a demon had been involved with hand picking and helping Adolf Hitler grow up to become the dictator and Jew killing monster of the 1930s and 1940s then this is how it might have read as a memoir. But at the same time Hitler is just one of a cast of odd dark characters that implies if anything that it was almost impossible to come through a youthful existence in Austria in the 1890s without being severely damaged.

With death all around, parents that struggled and failed to break the bounds of a class system it is no wonder that Hitler grew up full of resentment and hatred.

The final section of the book covers the breakdown of the relationship between Adolf and his father and the latter’s death leaving the family reasonably well off but Hitler in power. He is an academic failure, a drifter who has a strong belief in his own ability and is left by Mailer in a position where all the tendency’s are there to make him a Nazi but there is a lot still left to do to get him there.

A difficult book to read because it was far from enjoyable. Mailer must have wanted to evoke a response of disgust and he manages to do that several time. While that might tie in with the theme of the devil and the darkness it hardly makes it an enjoyable experience.

A review will follow soon…

The Castle in the Forest – post VIII

It must be something to do with the nights drawing in but it seems like walking through treacle reading a book these last few weeks. Luckily there is light at the end of the tunnel with this heavy Mailer tome and when he starts going on about masturbation, the enjoyment of a father feeling his son’s buttocks and old perverts like Der Alte the end cannot come soon enough.

Watching Downfall the other night for the second time it struck me that where this book struggles is to try and make a young boy seem evil. In Downfall you know what Hitler has done and that is why it is possible to watch a situation that in other circumstances would inspire sympathy with a detached interest. The problem here is that it has to be worked on all the time that Hitler has the makings of a mass murdering egomaniac.

The result is that he is implicated in the death of his brother Edmund by passing him the measles and he is taught to appreciate the qualities of showing no pain but exploiting his strength of personality to command others.

It might have worked but Mailer makes almost every other character equally distorted and the more the father becomes a monster, apparently unassisted by demons but helped by drink, it makes Adolf seem almost normal, one grotesque in a gallery of them.

With the last 67 pages waiting it will be interesting to see how Mailer leaves it.

More tomorrow…