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- Published on Amazon.com
"The Meowmorphosis" starts with a potentially amusing idea, and then completely fails to develop it in any of the ways that would actually make it amusing. Coleridge Cook's modifications end up flat and boring in some places from too closely copying the original, and in other places they deviate so far from the spirit of Kafka that the entire work loses coherence. Cook makes it evident that he despises Kafka, and this disdain for his co-author inevitably ruins the book. What could have been exquisite in the hands of a skilled satirist ends up as a pathetic wreck after being mangled by Cook.
I borrowed this book from a friend after taking a glance at a few random passages. It seemed promising. I've read "The Metamorphosis" and generally like Kafka, but don't take him so seriously that I see him as above parody, or satirizing his works as sacrilege. So I went into "The Meowmorphosis" with a generally optimistic feeling that I might read something witty, something that would both lampoon Kafka as well as pay tribute to him. The experience was completely contrary to my expectations. About a third of the way into the book, I was disappointed with how boring and flat the parody was. Midway through it, I was frustrated and baffled by Cook's extensive deviations from the story, and put off by his insulting attitude towards Kafka. I only finished it by force of will.
Cook fails his task in different ways in different parts of the book. For the early and later parts of the book, the text closely follows a public domain translation of "The Metamorphosis" by Ian Johnston, with little more than the selective replacement of insect-related concepts with those appropriate to felines.. Nothing else substantial is added or subtracted, so that there is little gained from reading this alternate version. Instead it was simply tedious, because the story was identical to the original "Metamorphosis," only with some slight changes in vocabulary. So he's a cat instead of a bug--the concept is amusing, but it's hardly worthy to appear as a published parody when executed this way. It could have been done by anyone else with a minimal amount of intelligence, and required no special creativity or insight.
In contrast to how unimaginatively and mechanically Cook deals with the beginning and end, in the middle of the book he goes wildly in the opposite direction, adding a totally new episode that deviates wholly from the original "Metamorphosis." This section is based loosely on "The Trial." Such an insertion wouldn't have necessarily been bad per se, but Cook takes it upon himself here to engage in a kind of free-form parody, in which it becomes extremely obvious that he does not understand nor like Kafka. This section consists mainly of lengthy monologues by various characters, including the cat Joseph K., whose speeches drip with Cook's obvious disdain for and distaste for Kafka's writing.
For example: "I took you for an educated tom, sir, in which case you would have read your German classics and be quite accustomed to a narrator who only loves to hear himself speak--you must admit I speak very well, with many masculine and robust sub clauses, romantic dashes, and surprising punctuation--and forgets what the purpose of telling the story was in the first place something like two-thirds of the way through. This is considered traditional!"
There is much more of this. Most of the writing in this section is terrible and clumsy, and does not capture the spirit of Kafka at all. It is has a boisterous, over-bearing and excessively dramatic flamboyance in it that is wholly absent from Kafka. Apparently Cook thinks that in order to write like Kafka, one must simply construct long, bombastic sentences with many clauses and pointless digressions. But this is only superficially like Kafka, and only captures the crudest features of his writing. Cook's writing is abrasive, and ostentatiously absurd. Kafka's is none of these things. When Kafka writes an extended monologue, it may be pointless and absurd, but it is a much more subtly crafted and seductive absurdity. It does not shout itself at you the way Cook's ham-fisted parody does. Love it or hate it, Kafka's style has nothing in common with Cook's misconceived imitations.
My impression is that Cook really hasn't read much Kafka, or didn't read Kafka very carefully. Anyone reading these middle sections of "The Meowmorphosis" who hadn't read Kafka first would come away with a very inaccurate impression of what Kafka's writing and ideas are like. Now, as a parody, of course "The Meowmorphosis" shouldn't emulate Kafka too closely. But a good parody needs to preserve some essential core of its target in order to be satisfying...
... that is to say, if the parody hopes to engage readers who have any fondness for the original. As I said, it seems clear to me that Cook dislikes Kafka intently (the mock biography at the end--based largely on Kafka's Wikipedia entry--makes this even more evident). In this case, Cook's terrible attempt at lampooning Kafka's style makes a little more sense. I can see how it might be considered funny by those who dislike Kafka. Those who have read Kafka and come away angry and confused, who complain that Kafka is boring, pointless, and pretentious, might gain some pleasure at seeing Cook skewer Kafka, since they will not realize nor care that the skewering is inaccurate; they will just enjoy the visceral pleasure of seeing their object of scorn mocked. But this is the worst spirit in which to make (or receive) satire. Seen in this light, "The Meowmorphosis" is nothing more than an angry rant.
Needless to say, I do not recommend this to anyone, whether you enjoy Kafka or not. But if you still do feel inclined to read it, at least read some genuine Kafka first.