Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

AUDIO BOOK: Metamorphosis

First published: 1915 (this English version translated 1999 by Ian Johnston)
Found: this free librivox.org recording
Pages/read time: 201, about 3 hours listening


This. This is what I present to you as the 100th post on this blog. Does it mean something? Has this whole indulgence in literary naval gazing been as tedious for you as a day in the life Gregor Samsa? I hope not. Anywho, here’s the plot:

Gregor is late for work. It’s all his fault, for he won’t get out of bed. His limbs simply will not respond the way limbs are meant to. He suddenly has six of them, you see. All he needs is to get a little bit more used to them. Then he can get to work, apologise to the boss, keep working to pay off his parents’ debts, send his little sister to an academy of music. No one will listen, in fact they are screaming. Running away. Fainting. But it’s alright, it’s perfectly fine. He’s just having an off day.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

Slowly, the family loses hope that Gregor will ever transform back to his human for. Doubt that the ‘thing’ is Gregor at all starts to creep in. His sister tries to be kind for a time. His father ignores him entirely. His mother faints at the sight of him. But they don’t cart him away to a lab or kill him. They simply start to forget about him – the giant bug living in their son’s old room with the food scraps and the broken furniture.

Kafka takes us through the queasy, icky description of a family coming to terms with the bug that was once their treasured son Gregor. It’s clinical, matter-of-fact, unflinching. Like a train wreck, once you’ve started it is so  very hard to stop ogling and awing at the very thing that’s making you feel sick to your stomach. Though a free recording, librovox.org has compiled quite a good quality narration by David Barnes. Barnes’ timbre is well matched to this supreme piece of surrealist literature. It hooks you in – though admittedly once you’ve read one lengthy description of scuttling, you’ve read them all.

Only after Gregor’s fate is sealed and the reader left to briefly mourn his pitiful death, the real metamorphosis is revealed. Not scuttling human clerk to beetle to dead insectoid husk. No, the real most miraculous transformation is Grete. Starting as a ‘girl’ she, almost imperceptibly, transcends childhood throughout the novel, only revealing herself as the truly morphed being in the final moments of the text. So distracted has the reader been by the sudden, and actually, far more static and singular transformation of man to bug. Indeed, his is not the morphing we witness at all. It’s actually Grete’s journey from child to adult.

Call it tedium. Call it genius. Either way, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis will get stuck in your head more firmly than the apple fatally lodged in Gregor’s thorax.

Reading suggestion: Don’t try to eat while reading. No, really.

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This entry was posted on October 6, 2017 by in Audio Book, Classics, Fiction and tagged , , , , , , , .

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