Holy shit, I had forgotten how utterly depressing Kafka was. Even this – at times quite clever – retelling couldn’t lift my spirits. I read The Metamorphosis in German a long time ago and while I remembered the main things that happened to Gregor Samsa after he wakes up as a cockroach/bug, I had forgotten how depressing every single character and every single monologue or dialogue was. Well, Coleridge Cook has reminded me. I can’t say this was a pleasure but I am rather impressed with the author’s skill.
by Frank Kafka and Coleridge Cook
Published by: Quirk Classics, 2011
Paperback: 206 pages
My rating: 7/10
First line: One morning, as Gregor Samsa was awking up from anxious dreams, he discovered thathe had been changed into an adorable kitten.
Thus begins The Meowmorphosis—a bold, startling, and fuzzy-wuzzy new edition of Franz Kafka’s classic nightmare tale, from the publishers of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! Meet Gregor Samsa, a humble young man who works as a fabric salesman to support his parents and sister. His life goes strangely awry when he wakes up late for work and finds that, inexplicably, he is now a man-sized baby kitten. His family freaks out: Yes, their son is OMG so cute, but what good is cute when there are bills piling up? And how can he expect them to serve him meals every day? If Gregor is to survive this bizarre, bewhiskered ordeal, he’ll have to achieve what he never could before—escape from his parents’ house. Complete with haunting illustrations and a provocative biographical exposé of Kafka’s own secret feline life, The Meowmorphosis will take you on a journey deep into the tortured soul of the domestic tabby.
If you’ve read or at least heard about these Quirk Classics books, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was just that – the Bennett sisters fighting off zombies and polishing their swords instead of doing embroidery and learning French. It is a silly sort of fun that you have to be in the right mood for. These books are also essentially the original text with only some words or passages replaced so the new “version” makes sense. There’s Android Karenina, Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, and as I found out only recently, The Meowmorphosis.
Coleridge Cook took Kafka’s Metamorphosis and, instead of having Gregor Samsa wake up as a cockroach (“Ungeziefer” doesn’t actually mean cockroackin German, but it’s a sort of collective word used for small, unwanted creatures, usually bugs), he wakes up as an adorable kitten. But if you think the fact that Gregor has turned into something that our society views as cute and fluffy makes this a happy or fun book, you are so wrong. Kafka’s original was a great book but also super depressing. And what made it so depressing wasn’t even that the protagonist was changed into a huge cockroach, but rather how his family deals with this change.
In this version, Gregor wakes up as a kitten and does what kittens do. He has a fondness for naps, he has to learn how to walk on four paws instead of two legs, he wants milk and fish and also to be left alone. His parents react to this rather fantastic change not with the kind of outrage one would expect (like, what the hell, our sun turned into an animal overnight!!) but they think more of themselves and their future, as they were dependent on Gregor’s job as a traveling salesman. It’s been a while since I read the original text, but if this book is anything like the Austen adaptations, then the text itself remains very much the same, except Gregor is a kitten and not a cockroach.
Where the story does change – and that’s at the same time this book’s strength and what makes it even more depressing – is when Gregor escapes his apartment and explores the town. He soon meets another cat and (because humans don’t understand his speech anymore) tries to talk to it. As it turns out, Gregor isn’t the only sad working man who has turned into a cat overnight. He meets a whole group of cats who used to be men and now roam the streets of Prague in their new feline shape. This bit also incorporates one of Kafka’s other books, The Trial, into the plot. And Gregor talks with some other cats and how they are, in every way, superior to us humans.
But one thing is too obvious to have escaped me, namely, how little inclined they are, compared with us cats, to stick together, how silently and sullenly and with what unspoken hostilities they pass one another by, how only the basest of interests such as food, drink, or breeding can bring them together for a little time in ostensible union – and how often those very interest give rise to violent conflict among them.
The ending of the book is equally sad and disturbing as the original. But I do want to say that Colerdige Cook did a fantastic job writing the original parts in Kafka’s style. There are seriously long monologues about how shit the world is, especially if you’re working a mediocre job that you hate. I’m not personally a fan of Kafka’s writing style but I have great respect for anyone who can imitate it to the point where you don’t know where Kafka ends and Cook begins. The entire book reads as one, without any noticable breaking point.
My favorite part by far – because it was funny rather than depressing – was the little Kafka “biography” at the end which explains that Kafka has been followed by cats much of his life. The suggested reading group questions are even funnier (“Gregor Samsa has some issues, doesn’t he?” and “Frank Kafka had some issues, didn’t he?”). If you like Franz Kafka or even if you don’t like him and want to see one of his tales made slightly ridiculous, then pick this up. As much of a downer as it is, I actually quite enjoyed reading it.
MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good