Review: The Trial by Franz Kafka

by Stephen Tall on March 16, 2017

kafka trialThe Trial, Franz Kafka


This is the twelfth book chosen from my #40booksby40 list. It’s the one which surprised me most so far.

I guess, because I already knew the basic plot — Josef K. is charged with a crime but is never told what he is accused of or how he can defend himself — I’d assumed The Trial would be quite a serious, righteous, outraged novel. And on one level it is; but it’s style is far more comic absurdism, as K. embarks on the uncompletable task of trying to prove his innocence.

He makes impassioned speeches to the court — the kind we all fantasise we’d be capable of — but then realises it’s inconsequential; he randomly finds men being flogged in the store room of the bank where he’s a clerk; he starts an affair with his lawyer’s nurse, almost literally under his nose, while supposed to be discussing his case; he discovers the man who knows most about proceedings is a court painter, Titorelli, who advises him that his only options amount to the same thing — to live in the continual shadow of his assumed guilt.

The book is episodic, disjointed, unfinished. The character of K. is by no means wholly sympathetic — he is, by turns, rude and exploitative — even if his situation is. Somehow, though, none of that matters; it’s a compelling read because the issue it raises — how state oppression of the individual can become commonplace — is timeless.