This is really a very strange book, and fans or imitators of Derek and Clive, The Goons or Monty Python might read it simply as a comedy resource or to understand how love of the absurd did not begin with Spike Milligan. For anyone else however this is one to avoid, first because it is too silly for words, second because its satire about courtly manners must have seemed old fashioned even when it was written in 1820, and thirdly because it is unfinished and unresolved so that the reader is cheated a decent story line.
The idea - it has to be said - is brilliant: Tomcat Murr is a highly intelligent moggie that has taught himself to read and write and sets down his autobiography. However, at the publishers his work is muddled up with the life story of Johannes Kreisler, a court composer. As a result the narrative switches randomly between the two stories, which never quite touch. There's no doubt that Hoffmann is a skillful writer, and easily and convincingly conjures up the two worlds of Murr the cat and Kreisler the composer. He uses this platform to lambaste and lampoon 19th century German society and its norms of behaviour but unfortunately his target is so far away from our modern world that the subtlety of his approach and the nature of his attack goes straight over a modern reader's head. What's left is the tongue in cheek adventures of the cat and the building mystery and love story around Kreisler - which goes nowhere because poor old Hoffmann died before he could finish the story. What a shame that no modern German writer has been able to end the story.