Genres: Classic, Dystopia, Literary
This is one of the books that German students seem to get quite often for their High School language studies, and I am very sorry for all the teenagers being subject to this complex novel. I went into it without much knowledge of the plot, and in fact I do recommend you go that way into it! The next paragraph, as per my usual reviews, has a short description of the synopsis, but please feel free to skip it if you’d like to read the book in the dark. Also skip the last part of the review (helpfully called Spoilers) to not have too much of the story revealed 🙂
The Trial is the story of Josef K., a bank worker who one day wakes up to find out he is being arrested for a crime that he is sure he didn’t commit, and doesn’t know the nature of. He then tries to find ways in which to make his case and obtain an acquittal, but there is never any progress, and just a long, maddening, pointless process full of contradictions.
It is difficult for me to think of a book that is quite like this one, the uneasy, angry and righteous feeling that you get on the first pages, which then subsequently evolves into a nauseating discomfort and ominous atmosphere. Josef K. himself is a strange character, not likable neither particularly hateful, going through his own life in a sense of self-importance and being better than others but also doubting himself so much along the way. It’s perfectly understandable and in fact I know many people like him, but it doesn’t make him easy to like, and yet I was feeling sorry for his predicament (and happy it wasn’t me). The feeling of uneasiness never leaves the book, although I chuckled a lot along the way. Kafka has a dry, spot-on sense of humor amidst the dark themes. The constant eeriness was both the best and the worst part of this book, and I recommend it if you think you can stomach it.
— Spoilers —
The contradictions within the process as seen by the different characters of the book drove me absolutely mad. As Josef K. progresses through the story (but never through the process itself!), he finds himself going deeper and deeper into the complicated maze of how to navigate the law, but doesn’t seem to actually understand the level of danger he’s in, despite a few characters making it quite (but not too) clear. I was a bit frustrated by his notion that once he explained things, the whole issue would just go away. I kept turning pages hoping he would do something, and he. Never. Did. It was maddening, just as much as the pointless process itself.
I’m not too happy with the role of women in this book (as per most classics, really), but I see parallels between Kafka’s relationship with women in his life and the way he portrays them in the book, so I’m not too upset about it. He seemed to have some issues committing to women (as K. also does throughout the book), and he was not particularly mean in his descriptions, so I’ll let it pass.
The entire book feels autobiographical, and I think many of us can relate to some extent to the anxiety of being part of a bureaucratic system which makes no sense and never seems to make progress or lead anywhere. This makes the book even more terrifying – its dystopian story is like a nightmare version of our anxious fears. The constant nightmarish feel of the book is intensified as it goes on, and it’s truly a pity the book was not finished before Kafka’s death, because I’d actually like to see what happens before the fateful last chapter.
Much of the book seems to come from unconscious anxiety of the author, made ink and paper with a very interesting prose. As said before, I actually really appreciated his dry humor, and the absurdity of some situations will exasperate the reader to the point of hilarity. There is no logic, no point to the actual story, except for making the reader uncomfortable.
As for the ending: I’ve given it some thought, and the final sentence K. exclaims before he dies, “Like a dog!”, seem to describe the inhumane process he went through, and how little the people and the system did to actually help and humanize him. He’s never seen the judge, doesn’t know his name, is never made aware of the actual crime he committed. The last act of his defiance is to not kill himself, but make his executioners murder him. And even that is a strange defiance, as he throughout the novel had opportunities to flee, or to bend to the system and he does neither. He simply tries to reason his way out and thus makes his situation worse. He refuses to play by the system’s confusing rules, and is therefore executed. His stubbornness definitely adds to the terrifying feeling of the book.
I will definitely be re-reading this, a lot of the monologues are very interesting and deserve to be revisited. This is not a book to sit down and relax to, but to intensively get involved in, and swallowed by. I found it even better to read at night – in fact, that very night I dreamed of a bureaucratic process I couldn’t understand, and was very amused the next morning.