What I have been reading

i) Dickens. I have completed the book now, well a little while ago, but I never got to tell you people what I thought afterwards. That’s an easy task: Read the damn book! Nuff said.

ii) Catch-22, by Joseph Heller – I have finished that one since my last book update too. It was very good, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, even the parts I wasn’t supposed to be enjoying.

The book is very funny, but you should not read it (only) for the laughs. The sheer absurdity of almost everything that goes on in the book is a big part of what makes it so wonderful, but that absurdity applied just as well to the real world at that time, which is a point Heller gets across with great force. I’m still very impressed by the way the book changes direction about half way in or so, without ever really breaking the flow of the story: It gradually becomes more serious, more tragic, as Yossarian’s “friends” keep dying all around him, for no good reason, and people all around him keep trying to kill him too, for no good reason. The moronic XOs and COs, people like Major Major Major Major Major, and their various stupid ideas, even more absurd proposals, their own motivations for doing what they are doing – and their complete lack of understanding of their soldiers’ motivational setup – combined with the stupid bureaucratic setting that these people work in, makes for a lot of very funny pages – until you remember that not all of this is made up by Heller, and that some of those people were actually very real. It’s that way about a lot of what happens in the book; it’s funny, but you know deep down that you’re actually not really supposed to be laughing here. Heller seems to all the time be telling us between the lines that if you think the book is messed up, then you’re wrong; it’s not the book that’s messed up, it’s the real world that’s messed up.

iii) Franz Kafka: The Trial, translated by Breon Mitchell. I have completed the novel, even if I have still not yet read the last 20 pages of the “Fragments” section of the book (Kafka died before the novel was ever finished, and he wrote in his will that it was to be destroyed when he died. The Fragments part of the book consists of additions, unfinished chapters ect. that never made it into the novel proper).

It’s not a fun book to read. In a way, it is actually a horrible book to read. But you can’t lay it down. At least I couldn’t. It wasn’t anything like I’d expected, but then again, after having read it, I realized that I actually didn’t really know beforehand what to expect. It’s absurd like Heller, but not much fun to read. Just like Yossarian, Josef K. is caught in a catch-22, before that term had ever been coined. As the novel progressed, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I might have done things differently from Josef K., had I been in his situation; but the more pages you read, the more you realize that whatever you might have said or done differently, very little would have changed. The novel is so well written that the slow but still immensely brutal realization that there is no escape, no hidden loophole somewhere that you (or Josef K.) can find to bring a stop to the nonsensical trial, which incidentally pretty much nobody – including the people who are trying to get you convicted – seem to know anything about, is almost as hard on the reader as it is on Josef K. As you read on, you get to feel K’s despair, and I must say it really got to me. All the way through, you can’t stop looking for loopholes that just aren’t there and never were.

Heller was greatly inspired by Kafka’s authorship, and the impact of two other authors I have read recently, Fyodor Dostojevskij and Charles Dickens, are also easily recognisable in his novel. Catch-22 is, even if it has twice as many pages as the latter, easier to get through than The Trial, even if it is not exactly a walk in the park. If you’re not sure if you can handle Kafka, my advice would be to start out with Heller and then perhaps later move on from there. As Howard Jacobsen puts it in his introduction to Catch-22, Heller’s book is: Kafka popularized rigth enough, Kafka made available to those who would never go near Kafka, but by no means Kafka alleviated.

iv) Bombarder Hovedkvarteret, by Mikkel Plum.

I have in a recent post made it clear that I find the book very promising. I naturally still do.


June 11, 2009 - Posted by | Books, History

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