The Trial, Franz Kafka

I read The Trial during Chico Chica’s UK tour. I read it in the back seat of a car on the way to a show at The Fringe in Bristol, a city on flood alert. The weather was absolutely appalling. Valentine’s Night was spent at Bertie’s, Cowes where we had to abandon the show when water starting to lap inside the venue. I read it during the railway journeys to Edinburgh and Glasgow and the ferries to and from Belfast but generally, two prerequisites for a reading habit, solitude and early nights, were in short supply.

We busied ourselves with rehearsing a new song called I’m a Playgirl. I really wanted it included in the later shows. We played it once at Bennigan’s, Derry but it the heady atmosphere of the night, the song got counted in too fast and went a bit mad. We haven’t played it again but I hope to do so at the next show which is at The White Hart, Mile End Road, London 1 Mile End Road London E1 4TP, 8pm, Sunday 30th March.

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The tour culminated with a show at St James Theatre, London and I finished The Trial at about the same time. The book sounds as if it’s a courtroom drama. It isn’t. In fact there is no crime and, as in a dream, there is no coherent logic. The courtroom is not as you would imagine, an ornate building in the city centre. It’s at the top floor of a block of suburban tenement flats. And it’s open on a Sunday. Everything is wrong and  meaningless. Characters don’t act in the way you would expect them to. It all made me wonder how this book was deemed a classic. Who makes these decisions? The Trial is not even a complete novel, some of the chapters were left unfinished and some critics argue about which order they were supposed to be in. The very fact that such an argument occurs doesn’t suggest the book has a great narrative flow. Kafka’s work was never published in his lifetime and he ordered his friend to burn all his work. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.

The novel seems to suit the pre-occupations of academia, I just feel sorry for the poor bastards who have to write essays about it and go on about ‘cultural discourse….blah….human condition….blah’.

Reader, my advice is to visit Foyles, on Charing Cross Road. Go to the fiction section on the ground floor, where you will find a yard of books by Phillip Roth. If you’re lucky, you will also find one or two by Joseph Roth. He, like Kafka, was a product of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was writing during its final years. Roth is a much, much better writer.

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