KAFKA’S PUSS NOT UP TO SCRATCH

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - An­gela Meyer

GREGOR Samsa wak­ing as a gi­ant in­sect is one of the most mem­o­rable open­ings in lit­er­a­ture. The Me­ow­mor­pho­sis imag­ines what would hap­pen if, in­stead of wak­ing as an ugly bug, Gregor awoke as a cute, cud­dly kit­ten. The book is also a mash-up, in the vein of Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies, where Kafka’s orig­i­nal (trans­lated) text is melded with the words of the pseudony­mous Co­leridge Cook. It’s a fun premise but there is not quite enough dif­fer­ence be­tween the sto­ries, and the themes, to give Kafka’s The Me­ta­mor­pho­sis a new life.

Af­ter the ini­tial shock, Gregor’s sis­ter Grete does have an ir­re­sistible urge to pet and cud­dle him. But this dis­ap­pears as she and her par­ents be­gin to take on work to re­place Gregor’s in­come. As they are shamed, dis­tressed and an­noyed by him, just as in the orig­i­nal, Gregor be­comes repul­sive to them, but here his form as a cat (al­beit a big, dirty one) makes the metaphor less ef­fec­tive.

The ar­gu­ment may be that it is meant to be ab­surd, just as Kafka’s sto­ries are. But there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween ab­sur­dity and silli­ness, and this story cer­tainly lacks the pathos of the orig­i­nal. If it’s not meant to be mean­ing­ful — and many things aren’t — it jars be­cause of its over­all at­tach­ment to the orig­i­nal. There is real po­ten­tial in the premise and it could have been taken fur­ther; for ex­am­ple, Gregor be­com­ing over­bear­ingly adorable, as op­posed to repul­sive.

Cook in­creases the book’s in­ter­tex­tu­al­ity by in­sert­ing sec­tions of other Kafka sto­ries and nov­els such as The Trial, In­ves­ti­ga­tions of a Dog and A Re­port to an Academy in a se­quence where Gregor runs away and meets some street cats. These cats also had been men and are named Josef K, Franz and Willem, char­ac­ters from The Trial. At first this se­quence seemed a wel­come de­par­ture from the nar­ra­tive’s close­ness to the orig­i­nal but it ends up be­ing a con­vo­luted and mean­ing­less dis­trac­tion. Gregor ends up back at home and the story con­tin­ues along the lines of The Me­ta­mor­pho­sis.

Mean­ing­less dis­trac­tion, or di­ver­sion, could be this book’s sole in­ten­tion; but its au­di­ence, I imag­ine, is peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the works of Kafka, who will get things like the ‘‘ daddy is­sues’’ and the sig­nif­i­cance of dreams. The prob­lem is that it seems to be

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