30 Novels, Day 12: The Castle
There are some books that seem inevitable. Books that had to be written. These are the stories that touch on some aspect of existence that everyone in the world had experienced but no one had ever put into words before. No one had translated this experience into story.
The Castle is told as a dream. A nightmare everyone has had. The one where we’re wandering around trying to accomplish something and we meet obstacles at every turn. We struggle hopelessly against these obstacles, and sometimes we struggle against ourselves. Even our body refuses to obey us in the world of the dream. A walk across the street becomes an unending, agonizing trudge. Something that should not be impossible proves to be so.
K, the surveyor, arrives on a snowy night in an unnamed village. He’s been hired to do surveying (or has he?) by someone in the Castle. He wants to speak to those who have hired him, up in the Castle on the hill above the village. But he can never speak to the distant authority in the Castle. He can never reach the Castle. He will struggle throughout the novel to attain his goal, and it will keep receding from him with every effort he makes.
Even K’s identity is in doubt as the story progresses. He tells everyone he was hired by the Castle to do survey work, but after a while his statements start to ring false. Just as, in a dream, we sometimes find ourselves in a role or career that’s nothing but a fiction of the dream-plot. We’ve never been an airline pilot or a detective, and some part of us knows this, even as we pretend, for the sake of the dream-story, that it’s true.
Kafka’s novel is unfinished, but that fact itself makes this book even more dreamlike. Most of our dream-stories have no resolution, no satisfying denouement. They don’t end -- they break off. Just like