“When you gooooo, will you send baaaaack, a letter frooom Americaaa?”
No, today’s post has nothing to do with bespectacled Scottish icons The Proclaimers, but the theme today is definitely stateside. I’m not a big reader of American literature, or even books set in the US, so I’ve read surprisingly little that other bloggers (or, at least, many American bloggers) would take for granted. I only have about ten books by American authors lining my bookshelves, and Kerouac’s On The Road is the most recent, so while I’m not ready to commit myself heavily, I may attempt to rectify that a little this year.
Then again, I may not. We’ll see 🙂
I was a little nervous about whether or not I’d enjoy this book, but from the first page I sensed that this was my kind of writing. The idea of an ordinary man catapulted into extraordinary occurrences is very reminiscent of Murakami, and the way in which Quinn, the protagonist of City of Glass, is pulled deeper into a bizarre case, unable to give up something which he shouldn’t really be doing anyway, could come straight out of Kafka. Even Quinn’s meeting with the author Paul Auster was familiar, reminding me of a certain Hiraku Makimura from Dance Dance Dance…
In some ways, it was a little scary to see how close we actually are to falling off the edge of our lives. Auster’s characters are prompted to make a slight alteration in direction by external events, and before they know it, they have abandoned their jobs, their homes and their way of life. Of course, you could look at it in a different light; the ties we think bind us to our lives are mostly arbitrary and more easily severed than we believe. An interesting viewpoint, and a very interesting book – more of Auster to come this year, I’m sure.
Amerika is a sort of Bildungsroman, just in reverse; Karl never really manages to get on, despite his best efforts, and is dragged down by a couple of unsavoury characters. The duo of Delamarche, a Frenchman, and the Irish Robinson take advantage of Karl’s good nature and innocence in a way which reminded me of how Fagin and The Artful Dodger attempted to corrupt Oliver Twist. According to Kafka’s (English) Wikipedia page, this idea was not as fanciful as it first appeared, as Kafka described Amerika as his attempt at a Dickens-style novel.
Sadly, there’s one more thing Amerika has in common with Kafka’s other novels, and that is that the story is, unfortunately, unfinished. There is a huge section missing before the last chapter, which is itself incomplete, a frustration for the reader, but something which we shouldn’t complain too much about. You see, after Kafka’s untimely death, he instructed his executor, editor and close friend Max Brod, to destroy all his unpublished materials, and it is due entirely to Brod’s decision to ignore this instruction that we are able to read any of his novels at all…
To finish today, I’d just like to tie the two books together a little more tightly. As well as the setting, there are several parallels, with Auster being influenced a little by Kafka in the sense of his characters’ seemingly being unable to free themselves from a nightmare scenario. And what is the plot for The Locked Room? A man is instructed to deal with the literary legacy of a writer friend after his (apparent) death. Now if that’s not a Kafka allusion, I don’t know what is…