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on 14 February 2004
This is one of Kafka’s most impenetrable narrative constructs... a book that puts away with the stark storytelling and literary devises of the Trial and instead, broadens the more poetic aspects of the Metamorphosis - as well as drawing on his often fractured short story work - to create a surreal, allegorical parable that, in the words of another reviewer, offers everything and nothing simultaneously. The world of the novel in pure Kafka... with autocracy and bureaucracy pushed beyond their reasonable limits, infecting and affecting the characters in various ways and ultimately, creating an atmosphere of decay and paranoia that hangs constantly in the background, like a sick reminder of the character’s absurd futility.
It’s bleak stuff, made bleaker by the writer’s use of descriptions and choice of subject matter. His work is categorised as being without colour, and certainly this is true when we read his work back. The world that is conjured in our imagination is like a combination of Lynch’s Eraserhead, Gilliam’s Brazil and Soderbegh’s own film of the writer’s life and work (which saw actor Jeremy Irons portraying both Kafka and his literary alter ego K. in a stunning example of self-reflexity). We can actually see the world in which the writer abandons us - leaving us without guidance or clues for the most part of the book - as a noirish underworld populated by a cavalcade of characters, each with shadowy-ulterior motives.
The book takes in elements of black comedy and farce, which does, to an extent, lighten the mood... though the continual bombardment of surreal encounters, arcane descriptions and literary puzzles means that the humour is the last thing we respond to. As others have previously stated, this is a difficult book to get through on the first reading, requiring a great deal of concentration on the part of the reader to work through Kafka’s many multi-layered musings. Don’t despair however; this isn’t quite the bottomless pit that you might imagine it to be from my description. There is a great deal here to enjoy, it may just take a while for the writer’s world and characters to sink in. Needless to say, burgeoning Kafka fans will love it!
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VINE VOICEon 30 October 2008
The Castle is more surreal and consequently more disturbing than Kafka's more famous novel, The Trial. The Castle appears to be an allegory for government bureaucracy and the law and in this respect will resonate with anybody that has dealt with government or a telephone company. It is a very dark story of a man's life of frustrations in the face of unrelentingly Byzantine bureaucracy.

This is my favourite Kafka novel and it is frustrating therefore that one must read it in translation, but mainly because Kafka never finished it, indeed it ends mid sentence. Kafka gave up on this book and it was Kafka's close friend Max Brod that completed it and to an extent commercialised it. But in a way, this chimes in with the unnerving narrative and is yet one more device to de-stabilise the reader.

Once read, The Castle will stay with you and you'll find yourself comparing much of what happens to you in modern life to the Sisyphus like existance of Joseph K.
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on 6 November 2015
What is the big mystery about The Castle? It is a book about day-to-day life as most of us live it – the petty squabbling; soured relationships; quotidian betrayals; personal disappointments; the need for jobs, warmth and security; meaningless 'status', often betokened by clothing, giving people over-exalted ideas about themselves; life in pubs, at work and in the home; people lounging in bed all hours because of sickness or laziness. Critics belabour the point of the Castle's mysterious authority, its ranks of petty bureaucrats and so on, but what's new? Have you ever had to deal with a civil service department in the UK? Indeed, I wonder how many people in a typical English street could tell you exactly how new laws are framed and enacted in this country. Five per cent? That sounds optimistic to me, probably more like one in five-hundred. Life is a mystery to most that they do not understand and don't even want to understand. Welcome, then, to the world of The Castle - our world.
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on 15 October 2005
In the era of New Labour doublespeak and the extension of the paraphernalia of the State at the expense of individual liberty, Kafka has never been more relevant. His world is a blackly comic nightmare in which the individual is oppressed by the sheer impenetrability of the bureaucratic state, where all our actions amount to no more than footprints in the snow, and are open to a multiplicity of contradictory interpretations, where nothing is at it seems - but is not as it doesn't seem either! A world where our best laid plans are constantly undermined and sidetracked by the mundane minutiae of daily life, a world of complex determinism which negates any notion of blame or responsibility, where the apparent exercise of our own free will at the expense of others can be excused on the grounds that we could have made no other choice. A world where the language of officialdom turns out to be meaningless - "Sir, you interpret the letter so thoroughly that in the end nothing is left of it but the signature on a piece of paper." It is a world that is at once absurd and yet recognisable to anyone who has had any prolonged dealings with government agencies. The mysterious bureaucracy that inhabits the castle could stand in for the CSA, Inland Revenue, Tax Credit offices, or any other agencies where the decisions of junior officials, themselves insignificant cogs in a Heath Robinson machine they themselves can't understand, are able to hold sway over the lives of those that have become dependent on their seemingly arbitrary decision-making processes - agencies who cannot admit the possibility of error even as they launch interminable investigations into that non-existent possibility, while floor to ceiling piles of files crash to the ground in a comic routine of haphazard officiousness.
After another fruitless attempt to engage with the mysterious Klamm, K. refuses to be ushered away, "no longer in any hope of success, purely on principle." As the lights go out he is left feeling "as if all contact with him had been severed and he was now freer than ever before, no question about it, and might wait in this otherwise forbidden place for as long as he liked and had fought for and won this freedom as few others could have done ... but - this conviction was equally as strong - as if at the same time there was nothing more futile, nothing more desperate than this freedom, this waiting, this invulnerability."
The novel remains unfinished - Kafka had directed that it should be destroyed on his death (he might have guessed this would be taken as a request to publish!) - yet one wonders how such a novel could have ever been 'finished', tailing of in mid-sentence seems entirely appropriate.
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on 25 September 2001
Kafka's best work. This book is deaply disturbing to read. In fact it is very difficult to read because, being brought up with traditional narratives, we find ourselves yearning for sense and structure. These always seem to be appearing, but are always ellusive. This book could never have been finished and the problems could never have been resolved. It offers everything and gives nothing.
I found that the book was a struggle, but that it gained more importance with further reflection and has stayed with me more than any other book I have read. Please read it.
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It either clicks or bypasses but the Castle is an allegory working on several lengths and is a dense sensorium.

The class dynamics are paramount where each interaction is measured constantly and repetitively for perceived slight. This pervades the novel as a damp odour rising to stultify human relatinships from beginning to end. It resonates with every humiliation and seemingly supplication throughout, resonating with Knut Hamsun's The Hunger. A tale that squirms with an intensity.

Then there is another tale of lust and debauchery Frieda and the Land Surveryor tumble and make a connection, the story is based on a blossoming relationship that must navigate the Castle and the village stares. It is he tale of the perennial outsider upsetting the country regime and their attempts to psychologically nullify him.

The people live within an iron grip of bureaucracy that makes pronouncements in a surreal world. There is law and order but it is all arbitary, the participants have to guess at instruction. Flying through the layers of class power those on the outside become the most afflicted. There is no one to take over all responsiblity but the effects of power are felt bodily and psychologically. This form of discourse pervails from trying to phone a utilities company, it also evokes the white collar worlds of bullying where the recipient is trapped in the constant double bind of dread (needing the money) and suffering the suffocating power of the face that stifles. Twenty years later these forms of power were used to devastating effect prior to and after WW2. Kafka was a seer who drew from the energy around him to provide a reflection. The effects of power as a discourse were to influence sociology and philosophy for eons. Whether right or left the effects of power are to paralyse the recipient within competing commands. Here he is also caught within come and go away type double binds.

The other aspect of the book is its surrealist elements, the descriptions of the castle and the local people, locked in dream mare scenarios of silent changes all to the constant detriment of the hero. Crowded by the peasants, the notes appearing from nowhere, the omnipresent sense of dread pervading the whole experience. This is the life of those who are condemned where the dream world offers no redemption from daily life. It is always the constant reliving of the same dynamics so the two become confused.

This is more racous than the prevous works as sex pervades the book. The land surveyor is held to grip by male and female as he seeks solace in an empty emotionaless world.

You could hardly make it up. It is the story of the fly caught within the ointment of power and how it struggles within the stickiness of treacle, seemingly extracting itself only for more weights to be placed upon its wings. Bureaucracy in the slow grind of the individual as it buries the person enough so they can breathe and finally extinguishes the breathing hole.

Devastatingly accurate.
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on 2 January 2016
Perhaps the best idea with this book is to buy it and hope for the best, without reading what I've written about it or what anyone else has written about it!

For a story as surreal as this one, a multitude of different interpretations are possible. How are you going to decide whose interpretation is "the best"? How are you going to decide whose interpretation is even "correct"?

For example, it is a cliche that the "message" of the novel is "about bureaucracy". Does the novel actually have a "message" at all? If it has, is that message primarily about "bureaucracy"? If it has a "message", maybe one could just as easily say that the message was about the division of society into social classes, and about how readily ALL of society accepts the divisions. (Notice the "maybe" in that sentence).

My own feeling is that reading it is something like having someone narrate a very long and interesting dream to you for hours on end. It takes some kind of stamina to follow the narration for such a long period, but I thought it was worth it. Other readers may not agree. I repeat the assertion that I made at the start: just buy it and hope for the best!
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on 25 March 2012
First off this is an excellent book, as you might expect given that it was written by, arguably, one of the most influential writers of the last 150 years. I would recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in contemporary philosophical and existential literature.

However, I would also suggest that anyone wanting to read this should read 'The Trial' (also by Kafka) first, simply because it's a slightly gentler starting point with regards to style and narrative and is an easier way to become acquainted with Kafka's works, before tackling 'The Castle' which is a trickier and more unfinished novel, but ultimately just as challenging and interesting a story.

(PS: Check out his short stories as well, most are similar works of genius from one of the most unique and tragic authors who ever put pen to paper.)
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on 17 September 2014
It's hard to put a finger on why The Castle is an enjoyable book. I suppose it must be the air of mystery surrounding the plot, characters and direction of the book. It's also hard to avoid comparisons with The Trial, which transmits a similar sense of mystery.

The story revolves around a character K, the omission of a further explanation of his contracted name is the first in a host of unexplained mysteries. We know very little about K, other than he has travelled to a town dominated by a Castle after being summoned to perform his duties as a surveyor. When K arrives at the town it becomes clear that nothing is going to be straightforward.

The town is run from the Castle by a mysterious administration whose labyrinthine rules and procedures govern the townspeople who are constantly in fear of offending those officials ranked higher than them while simultaneously striving to climb the ranking ladder. Unfortunately the whole game is rigged by a serious of secret networks, rules and unseen penalties.

Readers who enjoyed The Trial should enjoy The Castle. The same sense of menace looms over the narrative and its never clear if the main protagonist has figured out the whole ruse or is about to be crushed under the weight of bureaucracy. It's easy to see why Maria's books are viewed as critiques of the Soviet regime. The feeling of helplessness for individuals lost in a giant machine where even those working the levers are not sure what the end product is.

Somehow, by skill suspense and arresting prose, Kaka makes The Castle compelling when it's individual elements should make it immensely frustrating.
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on 28 February 2017
It's a good read. A classic, of course. But I was dumb and didn't realise that he didn't finish it. Which was annoying! I would probably have enjoyed it more if I had known it would stop mid-sentence.
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