By Franz Kafka
“It seems a Terrible Thing to stay single for good, to become an old man who, if he wants to spend the evening with other people, has to stand on his dignity and ask someone for an invitation…”
There are to date 87 titles in the quirkily designed Pushkin Collection Series, of which The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man (along with The Art of the City: Rome, Florence, Venice by Georg Simmel) is the most recent addition – due for publication in 2019.
It is a compilation of Franz Kafka’s lesser-known stories, the frontispiece showing him with a dog, circa 1905, and the blurb describing it as containing all the “wit and the grit; the horror and the humour; the longing and the laughing” of his “genius”.
Kafka (1883–1924) was, of course, a major figure of early 20th century literature; a German-speaking Bohemian Jew whose fiction commingled elements of realism and fantasy to create a unique world that reflected conventional, middle-class life, but intermixed it with something contemptible and grotesque.
The stories aren’t in chronological order and apparently “only the best” have been selected for inclusion. They are of mixed length, with tales like ‘A Short Fable’ being barely more than a paragraph, while those such as ‘In the Penal Colony’ and ‘Give Up!’ are closer to forty pages.
In the Translator’s Preface, Alexander Starritt remarks that “Kafka’s work is respected far more than it is loved”, which, in my opinion, is a truth no more apparent than in this collection. Whilst he is of the opinion these stories are “the best thing Kafka ever wrote” and they form the “core” of all his works, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed, greatly preferring his more familiar works such as the novella, The Metamorphosis. This lack of connection with Kafka’s short fiction is undoubtedly a deficiency on my part, and I’m aware my viewpoint isn’t widely shared, but regrettably I found myself losing concentration on several occasions, especially when reading the longer narratives.
I can nevertheless own to appreciating his sardonic humour and the sheer ingenious depth of this collection. It is brimming with typically Kafkaesque neurosis and symbolism and, in the words of Starritt, is: “quick, funny, strange and sad.”
Many thanks to Pushkin Press for providing an advance review copy of this title.
NB German Literature Month is an annual book blogging event in which participants are encouraged to read and review “works originally written in German” throughout the month of November. It is hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy’s Literary Life.