I first read the short story The Metamorphosis when I was 16 as part of a personal essay project in Higher English (the Scottish equivalent of A Level) and back then I didn’t enjoy it. I reread this short story a few weeks ago at the age of 26 and this time it was more enjoyable, but sadly only just.
The important information:
The number of pages:
Price: £2.50, Barter Books, present from my Mam
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Time to read: 4 days (only half the book)
My Mam asked me a few weeks ago if even if I am not enjoying a book do I see it through to the end and at the time I confidently answered that I would. I now have to not only apologise to my Mam for lying to her but also apologise for not liking the book she thoughtfully picked out for me in Barters Books in Alnwick. Sorry, Mam.
There are 6 stories in this book and despite having read Metamorphosis before I started rather hopeful that now that 10 years on I would appreciate Kafka’s writing more. I also was hopeful because of my new love of short story collections maybe this would further fuel that. To be fair to this book I did enjoy Metamorphosis more than I had before, it was the other two short stories following it that made me give up.
The Metamorphosis follows Gregor Samsa and his family come to terms with his overnight transformation into a large insect. Gregor is an overworked man who is also the main breadwinner of the family, working in a company that his Father owes money too. Gregor wakes one morning to realise he has turned into a giant bug (I imagine him as a cockroach) and has to unveil his new body to his parents and sister after his boss shows up to ask why he isn’t at work.
At first, his family are disgusted, but after a while, his sister comes into his room and starts to bring in food for Gregor to eat. The longer he stays a bug the more his mind becomes that of a bug and his connection with his family is lost. Both his parents and his sister start to neglect him and after incurring an injury from his father throwing an apple at him he dies. Initially, his family are mournful however they fast become relieved that they no longer need to worry about Gregor and continue their lives.
The Metamorphosis is a sad story, and I normally don’t like sad stories, but this time around I really enjoyed it. I felt sorry for Gregor throughout as he was an honest guy trying his hardest for his family before turning into a bug and his slow transition into being 100% a bug saw him disconnect with his family, which is something I always finds resonates with me as it is one of my main fears in growing up and moving away.
The other characters in the story brought out mixed feelings for me. The sister I liked at the start as she was the first to show kindness to Gregor, however, is the first to start to neglect him which made me dislike her. Gregor’s mother is always portrayed as having loved Gregor despite his appearance but struggles to look at him in his bug form. Her attempts to have a relationship with Gregor as a bug is heart-warming but fruitless as their mothery-son bond is lost over time. I did not like the Father, he is cold from the beginning and tried to harm Gregor twice throughout the novel and shows the least grief once Gregor dies. I find that I didn’t ‘care’ for the characters as I have in previous novels I’ve read as Kafka’s writing doesn’t allow you to build very much of a picture and you always feels a little distant from everyone in it.
The Metamorphosis was the best story of those that I read but let us have a quick peek at the other ones I did have a go of.
The Great Wall of China I cannot really remember very much of at all. From memory it was the story of a soldier or builders, time spent working on the Great Wall of China. The other story I started on (but didn’t finish) was Investigations of a Dog; this was written as if the dog was judging the human world and trying to make sense of this. Sounds interesting when written in one sentence but it just dragged on and on. Both The Great Wall of China and Investigations of a Dog had not plot line, nothing actually happened in them – well nothing memorable.
I made it half way through Investigations of a Dog and just had to put the book down. I had a quick ‘google’ of the remaining stories in the books and they seemed to also be of the same style as The Great Wall of China/Investigations of a Dog so I made the executive decision to give up. You never know maybe in another 10 years I will give this book another go and enjoy it but for now, it’s back on the shelf.