Kafkaesque and Not

One item in my endless list of pet peeves is when I come across a blurb or book review that compares an author to Franz Kafka, because the main thing about Kafka, to me, is that there is, and was, no one like him at all. Kafka was a very odd duck. His stories are a strange combination of humor and terror, but critics tend to focus on the latter, ignore the former, and accentuate his pervasive strangeness borne from his deeply felt sense of alienation. To me, there is no difference between Kafka the person and the stories he wrote, and for a work of fiction to be like Kafka, the writer would also have to be like him. You can smell a counterfeit almost instantly. His unique eccentricities were authentic, never cooked up for effect.

It always makes me pause to begin a book by a writer who has been compared to Kafka. I know it’s not (always) their fault that this association has been made, but it still makes me nervous. I recently had this unfortunate experience with a book by China Mieville, who was also compared to Orwell and Raymond Chandler, and who seemed to me to have nothing in common with any of the three except for the fact he used words to convey a story.

Yesterday I came across a story on line by Hiraku Murakami, a writer I’ve been meaning to get to reading for several years now. I quite enjoyed the story (which I linked to in this blog), so I downloaded a sample of his ‘Wind-up Bird Chronicles’ from Kindle, enjoyed that sample, and was about to buy the whole book when I looked him up on Wikipedia and sure enough, there he is being compared to Franz Kafka! “Oh no!” I cried in my best Mister Bill imitation. “Why do they have to do that? This guy is nothing like Franz Kafka. Sure, there’s an element of absurdity. Sure, there is a male first person narrator. Sure, he seems to have issues with women (apparently they all have to be “slim and lovely”) And sure, he writes fiction. But come on. Really, people? Franz Kafka?”

Well, I bought the book anyway and I’m enjoying it despite the ominous reference to that certain author. I hope to continue to enjoy it. I would just like to make a public plea, to any of the four or five people who will ever encounter this blog post, that if you ever feel inclined to compare a writer to Kafka, please, for God’s sake, think twice.

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8 thoughts on “Kafkaesque and Not

  1. It’s a pervasive mindset that even extends to amateur writers. I imagine you’re aware of a site that has you paste some of your writing so it can spit out a “You write like…” comparison.

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  2. I have read nearly all of Murakamis books over the last year, Norwegian Wood is my favourite.
    The only one i didn’t read i have recently found out is littered throughout with the no. 78…

    :o)

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  3. I learned a lot about Kafka’s writing after reading Alice Miller’s analysis of his childhood in her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. To be Kafkaesque would not be something to which one should aspire, because one would probably share a similar childhood.

    Alice Miller summarized her efforts in this speech http://www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/alice_miller2.html which includes:
    “Kafka was hardly aware of the fact that the main sources of his imagination were deeply hidden in his early childhood. Most writers aren’t.”

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    • Perhaps in this case the term “Kafkaesque” could be used to denote a writer whose personality is most deeply embedded in their writing, regardless of the content, or do you think there can be an issue of degree in this, or are all writers’ personalities equally embedded in their writing?

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