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The Greatest Writer of the twentieth century?
on 15 August 2003
This book has been taking up space in my cupboard for a few months, since I had to read metamorphosis for my English degree. Yesterday I picked it up again, having graduated, and have only put it down since to write this.
Kafka is perhaps the most brilliant writer of the last century in perception and the way he can imaginatively express his ideas. 'Metamorphosis' is the most famous tale here, using the central metaphor of a man who awakes to find himself transformed into an insect, but the other stories have just as much to offer.
I was particularly surprised by the early 'Meditations' that appear here. The Editor notes that Kafka told his publisher to stop printing them, embarassed by what he saw as his early failings. This view is not born out by the shorts that appear here, each one taking a situation, observing the human behaviour taking place with humour but sympathy. Kafka makes the reader aware of the absurdity of his characters actions, but at the same time we are led to inherently understand the reasons for them. He never sacrifices a basic humanity.
'The Judgement' and 'The Stoker', the latter of which is the first chapter of the uncompleted novel 'Amerika', are strikingly effective stories. Any fans of Ishiguros 'The Unconsoled' should read these to see where that writers style comes from.
Kafka seems to be able to render the uncertainties, and lurking terror in the commonplace situations that take place in the modern world, in a light which every reader can share in. He expresses the inexpressible, instinctive doubts that anyone can feel at certain times. The unlikely situation of the one page parable, 'The Sudden Walk', is perhaps my favourite, as he depicts the sudden euphoria of taking action, in however small a respect. Again, we see the slight absurdity of the feelings this arouses, but see the subjective truth in them.
This collection has reinvested my faith in the sublime quality of literature that appears too rarely these days. I will definitely be reading the novels. A necessity for all literature fans.