Just the other week, in our review of Self Made Hero’s graphic version of Don Quixote, we complained, a little, about the seeming faithfulness of the adaptation. Now, with David Mairowitz’s adaptation of The Castle, we’re going to go ever so slightly the other way. Unlike Mairowitz’s take on Heart of Darkness (which really worked for us, even if it didn’t quite work for the likes of Michel Faber), The Castle has more in common with the work of Andrzej Klimowski (particularly Horace Dorlan) than it does Kafka’s original work (and we say this in full knowledge of the debt Klimowski owes to Kafka).
The Castle tells the story of K, a land surveyor (possibly) who arrives in a small village only to find that a land surveyor isn’t really required. The village is in thrall to the imposing castle that stands astride the horizon, a castle that resists entry but which seems to control the actions of all who live nearby. K finds himself in a relationship with a barmaid called Frieda, followed by relentless, incompetent assistants (dark shadows of the Thompson Twins), assailed by dark, sexual dreams and eventually employed as the janitor of a school. Despite the fact Kafka didn’t finish the book (and the fact that it feels more unfinished – if that is possible – than both The Trial and America), the prose keeps the reader in a vicelike grip. You may not understand why you are where you are or why K acts in the way he does but you always know where you are. The same cannot be said for the graphic adaptation.
In some ways, the book could benefit from a tagline suggesting it has been inspired by The Castle rather than adapted from it. Certainly if you come to the graphic adaptation without foreknowledge of the original novel, it’s possible you’ll struggle to follow the action (or rather non-action). Saying all of that, Jaromir 99’s art is tremendous, striking and unusual, like the wood cuttings Alex Garland decorated The Tesseract with. There are times, when the narrative slips through your fingers, when the art is the thing that anchors you. Best to approach The Castle as a nightmarish black and white phantasmagoria, a visual poem to Kafka rather than an out and out graphic version of the novel, then. Otherwise (whisper it) it’s a little frustrating…
Any Cop?: In our view, then, not an entirely successful venture – but it has sent us scurrying back to the original novel and for that it must be thanked.