The Trial, by Franz Kafka

November 4, 2010 at 15:50 (Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Philosophy, Politics) (, , , , , )


A quite terrific novel, that punctuates its intended dreariness and nihilism with some sharp, staccato nails of clarity, hammered through the pages abruptly to anchor the spiralling hopelessness of K. into something resembling context. These range from the chilling warnings of the Priest, like a final desperate foghorn calling to a ship about to rend itself, to the diabolical condescension of the Lawyer in his bed, mocking K. with a cruel pastiche of the human condition, to K.’s own final plaintive cry, like an inverse and twisted “it is finished”, as he succumbs to the System.

It is extremely tempting to draw a correlation between K.’s predicament and the fate of Orwell’s Winston, but that might be missing the point somewhere: for Kafka’s world is so much more terrifying than the world of 1984, in that the evil is so undefined and faceless. No evil, then; but only an callous indifference that makes the reader wonder if Kafka’s world is upon us, rather than some dystopia that probably won’t happen.

The disjointedness of the edited version actually adds significantly to the enjoyment of the book; it accelerates K.’s trial wickedly fast, adding to the uncontrollable and almost supernatural power held by the half-imagined judges (wherever they lurk). It made the finished work read like a third person diary entry, where even the impartial observer is whisked along at breakneck pace, and where there are no opportunities for settling back and viewing the facts objectively. The confusing editing knocks the reader from his plinth where he can remind himself that he is reading Literature, and deposits him in a world just as confusing for him as it is for the characters.



  1. SilverSeason said,

    I like your point about the structure of the book, which is confusing. But K’s situation is confusing and he passes from episode to episode without really learning anything useful or making any progress. But that must be the point. For my own comments on K, see

    • J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

      I quite agree. The poor fellow is quite the passive observer and at times even hapless participant in his own damnation. Your own thoughts on K.’s preposterous opinion of his own importance are spot on, in fact. Perhaps Kafka was making a cynical point on humanity’s (and his own) insignificant vantage point, and inability to alter the course of life’s injustices. Nihilists, eh? What are we to do with them?

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