This is one of those books that has a reputation that precedes it that can work against it because like nearly all of Franz Kafka’s works you open it expecting to be sucked into a maze like world of dead ends and strangeness. It does contain that but there is also an assault on your own thinking going on here that lets the book operate on a different level.
Joseph K. is woken by two men informing him that he is under arrest and then he is given a bizarre interrogation in a neighbours flat. But he is allowed to go back to work in a senior position in the bank and is called to an interrogation where he lambasts the legal system but is introduced to some of its characters including the legal clerk, the attic offices of the law courts and ultimately via his uncle his advocate who is meant to defend him. After little progress K. decides to dismiss the advocate and defend himself but he seems to be unable to change his view of his trial or the legal system and in the end pays the price for being unable to heed the advice of not just his advocate but also the prison chaplain who heralds him in the cathedral.
Is it well written?
The start is stronger than the end with the reader, along with K., trying to work out just what is going on. But when it becomes clear, and the scene with the court painter is crucial here, that his case could last almost indefinitely and the role of the advocate is to keep it ticking over then you feel there has to be a decision by K. to defend himself to bring it to a conclusion. There are a few real skin creeping moments where you feel the shock of the character, as he discovers for instance that the priest in the cathedral is calling out his name. The sense of frustration and yearning for movement in the case that K. demands is something that the reader would identify with so that sense of anger with what seems to be completely illogical bordering on the stupid is a difficult thing to convey but K. manages to embody those feelings and that experience.
Should it be read?
For anyone looking for something that will challenge their perception of normality, wondering why things are as they are, and what their own response would be to something that is completely unjustified then the trial is a great read. You are constantly asked the fundamental question: what would you do? Would you fight it or accept it? Would you live with the case for years or try to bring it to a head? All of these questions are posed and what makes The Trial so special is that they are timeless and in an era of Guantemo Bay just as relevant as ever.
Leads to – More Kafka in the form of his short stories but there are also his other two novels America and The Castle which although I haven’t read have at least got an appetite for after this. In terms of multimedia some people have already commented about the Orson Welles film and for me there are very strong echoes of The Trial and its feel in the film Brazil.
Version read – Penguin paperback
The book ends without a reprieve for Joseph K. who fails right until the end to understand what the law is all about and that logic and common sense cannot be applied to its workings.
Bullet points between pages 184 – 251
* Joseph expresses dissatisfaction with progress of his case and sets off to see the advocate to dismiss him from the case and meets another arrested man Block a merchant who warns him against dropping the advocate
* The advocate tries to stop K. from dropping his services by humiliating Block and showing the power he has over the fate of those who are depending on him for salvation but that just makes K. more determined to abandon the advocate
* K. is being ground down by the case and is sent by his manager to accompany an Italian to the cathedral but the tourist fails to arrive and just as K. is about to leave the priest calls out his name from the pulpit
* The priest turns out to be the prison chaplain and warns K. that his case is going badly and bemoans the fact that Joseph is unable to adapt his mind to the workings of the court and keep holding on to his logic that is inappropriate to understand the workings of the court
* The final chapter is a sinister version of the first with two men coming to collect K. and they arm lock him and take him trough town to a quarry and on the way K., who seems to realise what is happening, resigns himself
* Leaning against a rock on the edge of the quarry the two men pull out a knife and then kill K. with his last words about the shame of it meant to sum up the futility and the anger of the shameful death
A review will follow once the story has sunk in a bit…
After the strange events of the first 100 pages the story settles into a sense of growing unease as the case gathers momentum with K. taking on legal advice but not seeing to be getting anywhere.
Bullet points between pages 102 – 183
* Joseph K.’s uncle turns up and demands that his nephew takes action and stops ignoring the case and takes him to an old friend who is an advocate and asks his friend to take on his nephew’s case
* While his Uncle and legal friend are talking Joseph wanders off and is seduced by the house main Leni and then comes out of the house to be confronted by an angry Uncle who despairs about his behaviour
* The advocate tries to help Joseph but the legal system keeps the defence in the dark and the case is carried out in secret making it difficult to know how things are progressing
* The advocate tells stories to illustrate the lowly status of those for the defence describing their attic room, with a hole in the floor big enough to get your leg trapped through, as evidence of how neglected they are as a community
* K. starts to suffer at work because he keeps dreaming about his case until a client comes in and tells him that the court painter could offer him some useful advice about his case and so he heads off to see the painter who like the court is based in an airless attic
* The painter advises him to try and go for a postponement in his case but because of the atmosphere in the garret K. is unable to concentrate and as he takes his leave is surprised to find law offices next door but the painter explains that nearly all attics contain law offices
More strangeness tomorrow…
There are moments when you read this book by Franz Kafka and you start to get concerned that some of the strange things could be possible. The sense of helplessness and weirdness that permeates through the novel is the most disturbing aspect to it so far.
Bullet points between pages 7 – 101
* The story starts with a banker named Joseph K. being told by two men, then confirmed by a third sitting in a neighbours flat behind a desk, that he is under arrest but no charges are specified and he is then released to go back to work
* Joseph tries to dig a bit deeper with his landlady about the events and manages to fall out with her and then gets carried away and kisses his neighbour after explaining to her what happened in her rooms
* He then gets summoned to a tenement block for an interrogation on a Sunday and walks into a packed room and takes the stage and pleads for some sort of sanity and gives a full account of the events of his arrest including a criticism of the men who first dealt with him
A week later he returns for a hearing but discovers there is no sitting but gets seduced by the legal secretary’s wife who is then grabbed and taken upstairs to for the interrogating magistrate’s pleasure leaving Joseph with the husband who offers to show him the legal offices
* But once in the attic Joseph becomes weak and almost faints and has to be helped outside to get his breath back and as the door opens those inside replicate his symptoms as they breath in the fresh air
* The strangest scene so far comes next as Joseph hears a sound as he goes past a store room in the bank and finds the two men who first arrested him being whipped because of the complaint he made about them at the first interrogation
* As Joseph walks past the room the next day he opens the door on impulse and finds the same two men and the whipper in the room – something that unnerves him and he demands that the bank clerks clear the room out
Why are these things happening to him and why does he get sudden impulses to do things that he presumably would never do, like kissing his neighbour and walking firmly into store rooms? More will follow…