I have read Metamorphosis, and didn’t really get it. The same goes, now, for The Trial.
Kafka has an amazing style, and conjures wonderfully dreary environments for his characters, but the underlying message — the novel doesn’t really go anywhere — eludes me. At first I thought it was about his take on writing, and how he feels trapped, judged by those around him. Then I thought it was about a girl, a commitment to marriage that he wanted to escape, and everything that happened was a horrible dream. The scene where he makes love with the administrator’s mistress is particularly reminiscent of a dream or fantasy.
Where did these ideas come from? The little introduction, the few pages that a lot of classic books have that talk about the author and the book. From reading this one can then judge what the book is about. From pinpointing exactly when in the writer’s life a certain text was written the reader can discern what the hell they are talking about. Rather than Cliff’s notes, read the author’s biography.
This is one of the pieces of great advice that I took from the book On the Art of Reading, a transcription of lectures given by one Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch from around the First World War. Example chapters include Children’s REading, On Reading the Bible, and Of Selection. He restates such virtues as writing every day, and inspires some new thoughts, such as waiting to read Paradise Lost until the age of 30, and using the Book of Job (yes, from the Bible) in literature classes. Not much has changed, and in fact the body of written work has expanded, making judicial choice much more important, and that importance is a matter of subjectivity. To quote Sir Arthur, “Considering for a moment how personal a thing is Literature, you will promptly assure yourselves that there is —there can be — no such thing as the Hundred Best Books.” Read widely, but wisely.
So back to The Trial. Has reading it imparted anything on me? I can’t say, except for perhaps the unique style, that is has. Certainly knowing more of the man may help, but as it is, The Trial is a bleak story and that’s about it.