Book: The Trial (audiobook)
Writer(s): Franz Kafka
Let me preface my remarks by pointing out that my opinion may be severely hampered by the medium I chose for this novel. This particular 1998 edition audiobook is horrible: not only is the narrator poor, with no voice distinction between characters making dialog scenes confusing, but from a technical standpoint the recording is awful. I've never experienced this before, but there are many, many places where they obviously went back in and re-recorded a line or two of text and the sound quality of these edits is completely different, as though they recorded these with different equipment in a different location. It literally makes the narrator sound like a different person, and when you have one sentence out of a paragraph read in a different voice, it's bewildering and off-putting.
Another flaw is that this particular version is a new translation, which is fine, but the audiobook includes an introduction by the translator explaining some of his choices. For someone who has read the book, this would have been fine and interesting, but I knew little of the story and this introduction actually gave away the ending! It would have been much more appropriate coming at the end, after I'd read the book. Besides, it was virtually useless to me anyway as it made reference to scenes and characters I knew nothing about, as well as to past translations I didn't know. In a book I would have been able to skip this intro, but that's much more difficult to do with an audiobook (especially while driving, which is when I listen to books).
I'm a big Kafka fan, but perhaps these flaws influenced my impression of this book, for I did not like it. It is entirely possible that a second reading (in print form) would change my opinion, or additional research into the novel, but I'm not sure. All I knew going in is that this is a famous novel about a guy put on trial for a crime he's not told about. That premise fit in with Kafka's absurdist tendencies and I've always wanted to read this novel but never gotten around to it.
Unfortunately, I found the novel too bizarre to be interesting. What confused me is the setting: I cannot tell if this is set in an alternate universe or if it's supposed to be the real world Kafka lived in. Basically, the steps of this "trial" bear zero resemblance to any court proceeding I've ever encountered. Court sessions are held in apartment buildings in the living rooms of bailiffs with the wife doing laundry in the corner. Huh? Apparently in this world, being accused of something is enough to put you on trial, and the suspect is never even told the charges and no one finds that the slightest bit remarkable.
Perhaps all this is intentional and the whole point of the novel. That is an interesting idea, but the way this is presented does not make that clear. Part of the problem is that the novel is old so it's essentially a period piece: it's hard to tell from the story when the events take place, for while there are modern things like telephones, there's also a lot of candles used for lighting, which sounds ancient. Because it's old and in a foreign country (presumably Germany, Kafka's country), one can assume some of the aspects of the trial are cultural or period specific. Someone of that era might immediately spot the absurdities but I could not. I had to take things at face value and I found the process annoying and tedious.
Not a lot happens in the actual story. It's mostly about one man's fight with absurd bureaucracy, but the situation is so off-putting I found in near unreadable. I was bored, distracted, and disinterested. Also, since I knew the ending (spoiled by the translator introduction), I really didn't care because I knew what was going to happen anyway.
I am sad, because I'm sure this is a good novel. It has flaws -- it is unfinished and there are fragments of the manuscript that weren't included in its original publication (these fragments are read at the end of this audiobook, which was nice) -- but I can sense some profound things happening. I would like to read it again, but in print form, where I have more control over pace and can reread passages I don't understand. I won't do it for a while, though, as I want to forget this memory. This audio edition is dreadful and really ruined the experience for me. I would also like to do more study and research before I read the novel, so I can make sure I understand the historical context, which I'm sure is important.