The Meowmorphosis Paperback – May 10 2011
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“Highly recommended for connoisseurs of the bizarre.”—Publishers Weekly
“Takes meta-fiction to dizzying new heights.”—The Huffington Post
About the Author
Franz Kafka is one of the 20th century's most influential authors. His novella "The Metamorphosis" and his novels The Trial and The Castle are regarded among the most original works of modern Western literature. Coleridge Cook, writing under a different name, is a beloved fantasy novelist and blogger as well as the winner of several prestigious literary awards.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In less capable hands, such a prompt would have resulted in a book that simply replaced the word "insect" with "kitten." But Quirk Books wisely commissioned an extremely capable fantasy writer to re-imagine Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis as a work of gonzo literature. I'm happy to report that "The Meowmorphosis" (published by "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies publisher" Quirk Books) is more than the one-note parody its early detractors feared.
While the initial chapters stick close to Kafka's well-known novella, the book spirals out of control (in a good way) when Samsa leaves his parents' home to relieve them of the burden of caring and feeding for such a large, adorable kitten. Samsa's adventure is both hilarious and horrifying to witness, and takes meta-fiction to dizzying new heights. The new co-writer absolutely nails Kafka's voice; the new passages integrate so well with the story that it's hard to believe the book isn't entirely written by one author.
Co-author Coleridge Cook (a pseudonym for an award-winning fantasy novelist) describes Samsa's feline behavior in detail, and not a page goes by in which a piece of furniture is not scratched or perched on. Bowls of milk are lapped at, and humans are snuggled with.
Will cat-lovers enjoy "The Meowmorphosis"? Yes -- there's no doubt in my mind that cat-lovers will find Samsa just as cute and cuddly as his sister does in the story. I'm a dog person, and even I was LOL-ing by the book's end.
First of all, it's pretty gutsy. Many of the books they've lampooned previously are classics with a long, classical pedigree, that've had film adaptations, miniseries, modernizations and bowlderizations aplenty. Taking something like Kafka's Metamorphosis, a book that's so much the province of deep thinkers, intellectuals and grad students, and putting in lolcat jokes is a move that's more than a little shocking.
And it works, on almost all levels. The book maintains the unsteady paranoia, that creepy feeling that what you're reading might just as well be a long hallucination as a description of actual events. The overall themes remain as well - the futility of modern work, man's disconnection from himself, being a stranger in your own family's house - but it is this very faithfulness to the source material that betrays the book from time to time.
The original Gregor was turned into a bug - this Gregor was turned into a kitten. At times, the book wants us to believe that kittens and bugs behave in almost exactly the same way, which just isn't so. This is most striking in the early part of his transformation, where Gregor is having difficulty getting to his feet. The scene plays out well in the original - "like a beetle on its back" is a common enough phrase for being greatly inconvenienced and unable to act - but with a kitten, it just doesn't make sense. And it's not as though the scene couldn't be rewritten to indicate that the problem wasn't one of anatomy, but rather one of a kittenish sleepiness.
This creeps up less as the story goes on, although it returns when Gregor is rooting through garbage and in his reactions to some of the other characters in the book.
If there'd been a little more attention paid to these few scenes, this book would've earned a solid five stars. As it is, it's a highly entertaining read and a strongly recommend it.
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.
What works well is that, for the most part, Cook doesn't just try to swap out "kitten" for "bug." The Metamorphosis plot trajectory is there, but there's not a one-to-one identification, which would have been simplistic and would have left out a lot of good jokes (such as Gregor's sister's overwhelming adoration for her cuddly kitten brother). The book fortunately didn't go for the LOLcat humor, as I feared it might, which would date an otherwise "classic" mashup. It takes advantage of Kafka's gloomy modernist glumness and sense of the absurd and makes us see them through the eyes of a tortured kitten's soul, and the results are hilarious.
There's a departure in the middle of the book that lampoons The Trial. For readers who are familiar only with The Metamorphisis, this is going to be confusing and potentially boring. I wouldn't edit it out because it adds absurdist meat to the text and builds up Gregor's character and his torments, but readers who are only casually interested in Kafka may want to be advised.
The biographical note on Kafka at the end deserves special note; it's a riot. Satirical and biting, it finds a shocking thread in Kafka's life (cats!) and lampoons modernism at large. Don't skim over it-- it's a nice little treat waiting at the end of this novel.
Quirk does it again.
The end that Samsa finds would seem more deserved were he, as in The Metamorphosis, a(n) insect/bug/vermin/monster (Ungeziefer, auf Deutsch). A kitten, an adorable one no less, should have been-- adored. I spent the first half of the book awaiting the family's realization that Samsa deserved to be cuddled and petted. I waited in vain, for the best they have for him is disdain and approbation. And that is the point of the exercise.
Samsa seemingly escapes this living death by entering into the world of cats. But in Cat Court he is tried, convicted and sentenced to return to his family life. Were he worthy of catdom, he would have defended himself to the other cats. He would have summoned all the dignity that makes a cat a cat. He would have gone forth denying the court's jurisdiction and affirming that whatever had occurred before, he was now a cat and thus beyond judgment, even by other cats. Alas, he is essentially lacking, and can only return to his family. After his return, the family's attitude toward Samsa becomes openly hostile and violent, and that is that. One is free to make what one will of such a work.
I was disappointed in that Meowmorphosis was little besides retelling. So much more were possible, had Coleridge brought fresh ideas to the story. Capturing the soul sucking effect of the original by remaining true to its text, he neglects to recast the story in a more contemporary idiom. There is a missed opportunity to look at Samsa and his situation in a new light and find some other fate, if only a different doom, for him. Even with Samsa still doomed, deeper exploration of the characters of the story, the thinking and alternatives behind Samsa's eventual decision, and of the attitudes of the others would have made Meowmorphosis far better than it was.