I found this book while browsing in Waterstone’s one afternoon last year. I was just picking up books at random and flipping through them and read a chunk of dialogue in this one wherein two characters are talking about Kafka. That’s all it took for me to want to buy it. Then it sat on my shelf for ages while I was reading other things before I finally got around to it.
It’s a simple set up; two intellectuals – clever enough to recognise how clever they aren’t – chattering away for two hundred pages. If that sounds dull, it really isn’t. One, Lars, is battling with an ever worsening damp problem that is slowly taking over his flat. The other, his friend W., spends his time reading books in languages he doesn’t understand very well and pontificating endlessly. It reminded me of Waiting for Godot and Withnail and I. W. spends a good deal of the book belittling Lars, which is tempered by the fact that he is equally critical of himself. He says they are both Max Brod in search of a Kafka. They are not geniuses, but are merely equipped enough to recognise genius when they see it.
It’s very funny in places and plain unsettling in others. The damp problem that reaches epic proportions by the end of the novel runs parallel to the stagnation of their lives. The characters end the book in much the same position that they started it, but in that time the walls of the flat have become irreparable and all the rusted kitchen appliances are strewn about the place.
The humour resides in W.’s pomposity and is entertainingly written. He’s an odd character, sharply critical of others but taking an unusual amount of pleasure in his own failures. A scene in which he finds the shoddy publication, distribution and promotion of his own book hilarious shows a man not only resigned to a lack of success, but almost deliberately planning for it. By deciding that what is required is genius, something you either have or do not, he can revel in the absurdity of his own life.
Very enjoyable, well written and funny. It supports my theory that if you open a book at a random page and see the word ‘Kafka’ you should buy it instantly.