25 Down, 27 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Gregor Samsa is the dutiful son, working hard as a travelling salesman to financially support his ailing parents and young sister. One morning, he inexplicably wakes up as a giant cockroach. Gregor is mostly unperturbed, and half-heartedly worries about mundanities like keeping his job and getting to work on time.

Obviously, he can’t even leave his bedroom. Soon, he starts crawling around and eating garbage, getting gradually more insect-like. His parents, horrified, want nothing more to do with him, while his sister tries to continue taking care of him.

One day, Gregor escapes into the living room, unintentionally terrorising his family. His father throws apples at him, one of which becomes embedded in his back. Eventually, Gregor dies when the apple rots in his back, infecting him as well.

And in case you missed it – he wakes up as a giant cockroach. OK, its never said that he’s a cockroach, but I dare you to imagine a better type of vermin.

Metamorphosis is a much studied text by a well-known author, so I won’t really waste your time with an academic perspective on the book. Just google it yourself if you want.

What’s interesting to me is how my reading of the book has changed since I last read it, which was close to a decade ago. I was in Jurong Junior College, in my first year, and was determined to stop reading G.I.Joe novels and start on some really academic classic type books. As most angsty Smiths-loving teenagers are wont to do, I chose a Kafka novel as the first step to my future as a very serious adult.

I remember being suitably impressed by the affected darkness and gloom of the novel, reading the study notes religiously, and sagely agreeing with all the psychoanalytic and political interpretations of the plot. I must have been thinking, “I’m totally like Gregor, I’m a giant cockroach and nobody loves me!” Or something else to that effect…

This time around, Metamorphosis reads like a slapstick comedy ala The Three Stooges. Check out this passage where Gregor tries to escape his enraged father:

Nothing would stop Gregor’s father as he drove him back, making hissing noises at him like a wild man. Gregor had never had any practice in moving backwards and was only able to go very slowly. If Gregor had only been allowed to turn round he would have been back in his room straight away, but he was afraid that if he took the time to do that his father would become impatient, and there was the threat of a lethal blow to his back or head from the stick in his father’s hand any moment.

Eventually, though, Gregor realised that he had no choice as he saw, to his disgust, that he was quite incapable of going backwards in a straight line; so he began, as quickly as possible and with frequent anxious glances at his father, to turn himself round. It went very slowly, but perhaps his father was able to see his good intentions as he did nothing to hinder him, in fact now and then he used the tip of his stick to give directions from a distance as to which way to turn.

If only his father would stop that unbearable hissing! It was making Gregor quite confused. When he had nearly finished turning round, still listening to that hissing, he made a mistake and turned himself back a little the way he had just come.

That’s like comedy gold, man. I can totally envision a Stephen Chow adaptation of the novel, with Chow in a giant cockroach suit. I suppose my added years and consequent freedom from angst are helping me better perceive Kafka’s black humour.

Guess my current capacity for levity is linked to maturity, or the obvious flipside, that my angst and adolescence were pretty much inseparable. Ah, me and my irretrievable teenage wasteland. What a cock.

(ISBN No: 0553213695) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Tibor Fischer’s Under The Frog.

5 Responses to “25 Down, 27 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)”

  1. 1 avalon June 26, 2006 at 11:06

    You should check out this flash movie on the book at http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/metamorphosis/

  2. 2 Billy June 26, 2006 at 15:45

    i rather like the score to the movie. very kronos quartet.

  3. 3 Rambling Librarian July 11, 2006 at 1:55

    I just don’t get Kafka. Period.

  4. 4 Jimmy September 21, 2006 at 17:54

    I read that half of that and threw it away

  5. 5 Bompa November 17, 2006 at 8:10

    I also liked the score to the movie. I agree that the flash
    of the movie is good also. Thanks for the book.

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