KAFKA’S PUSS NOT UP TO SCRATCH
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