All you need to know about the books you meant to read

This week: THE TRIAL (1925) by Franz Kafka

Plot: As a German-speaking Jew living in the Prague of the fading Austrian Empire, Kafka understood and explored alienation. This short, unrevised novel juggles socio-political protest, paranoid (sometimes erotic) fantasy and quasi-religious parable in a way which is simultaneously gratingly neurotic and icily detached.

"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning". The core of the story is exposed in the off-beam wit of the casual opening sentence. Joseph K is a thirty-year-old bank clerk with a touch of Hamlet and more than a dash of Buster Keaton. After interrogation, he is allowed to resume work providing that he promises to attend the Court-house. His visits prove barren. In the second half of the novel, it becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle K's warped perceptions from outward reality. However, he seeks a solution - and absolution - in Love, Art and Religion.

Leni, an excitable nurse, informs K that guilty men are often sexier than innocent ones. Titorelli, a painter of judges, offers the cheery opinion that nobody is ever acquitted and that the Court's pronouncements are just devious techniques for deferring sentence. Finally, the priest tells the parable of the man from the country who waited outside the door of the Law. The doorkeeper refuses to let him in and the man's life drifts away. Near death, he asks the doorkeeper why, if all seek the Law, no one else ever turned up. The doorkeeper explains that this particular door is intended only for the countryman; he then promptly slams it shut in the supplicant's face. K and the priest puzzle over this one.

The book ends with K murdered "like a dog". As he loses consciousness he sees a distant human figure who may be a friend or a tormentor. K never meets the Judge nor sees the High Court.

Theme: Kafka sees mankind caught between guilt and the Law. Guilt is a constant prickly heat; the Law is distant, vindictive, arbitrary and merciless. Throughout his experience, K struggles to assert some form of dignity. Although the struggle ends in tragedy it usually collapses into grim farce. The moment that K picks up the rules of the game, the rules are altered.

Style: The prose is luminously uncluttered. Devoid of metaphor, the deadpan directness is often at odds with the bizarre events described. Humour and horror are woven into a cruel, seamless synthesis. The narrative is a labyrinth of parable which both invites and mocks interpretation.

Chief strengths: "He over whom Kafka's wheels have passed has lost forever any peace with the world" (T.W. Adorno). Kafka fuses his metaphysical vision to his boredom and his crazy personality to reproduce a nightmare where senseless incidents, words and gestures are rationalised without being remotely understood.

Chief weakness: Indirectly, Kafka can be preachy. Walter Benjamin argued that Kafka was like Confucius, but a Confucius bereft of a cultured audience to instruct: therefore Kafka's didacticism was illegitimately turned into "art".

What they thought of it then: Kafka believed the book a failure and asked his friend Max Brod to burn the manuscript. In the Thirties the Nazis were delighted to comply with his wishes, throwing all the writer's works on the bonfire.

What we think of it now: Critics cannot leave the book alone. Like a wall of highly polished marble, The Trial cannot be scaled and tends to reflect the preoccupations of the onlooker. W.H. Auden suggested that Kafka stands in relation to our own age as Dante and Goethe stood in relation to theirs.

Responsible for: Borges's elliptical ficciones, Beckett's boring tramps and Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled. Also the word "Kafkaesque" which, according to George Steiner, exists in over a hundred languages.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little