1910s Audio Book Classics Novella

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Audio Book)

The Metamorphosis

Five words from the blurb: salesman, transformed, insect, trapped, room

The Metamorphosis is a book I’d always avoided as I suspected it would be disturbing and/or impenetrable. I’m pleased I decided to give it a try as neither of these preconceptions were true. The Metamorphosis is actually easy to read and isn’t very dark at all – in fact it is quite funny in places. 

The book begins with Gregor, a travelling salesman, waking up to discover that he’s been transformed into a giant insect. It is one of those rare cases where an author manages to take a fairly unrealistic concept and make it feel real. I loved Gregor’s confusion and the way he slowly learnt what life as an insect felt like. 

….when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

It is a short book (just two discs in the audio version) and the plot is very simple, but I was entertained throughout. Martin Jarvis’ narration was excellent and I recommend this book to anyone looking for something a bit different.


1910s 1920s Short Story

‘They’ – Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling is one of those authors I felt I should have read, but hadn’t until now. ‘They‘ is a collection of three of his short stories. The blurb states that they are very different from his novels and poems, being more sinister and macabre. This darker element really appealed to me, but unfortunately I didn’t find any of the stories particularly chilling – early 20th century fear is very different to that of the modern day!

They is the first story in the collection and it reminded me of The Turn of The Screw; or at least a shorter, more easy to follow version. The writing was of a very high quality and contained vivid imagery, but glimpses of ghostly children did nothing for me. 

‘I heard that,’ she cried triumphantly. ‘Did you? Children, oh, children! Where are you?’

The voice filled the walls that held it lovingly to the last perfect note, but there came no answering shout such as I had heard in the garden. We hurried on from room to oak-floored room; up a step here, down three steps there; among a maze of passages; always mocked by our quarry. One might as well have tried to work an unstopped warren with a single ferret.

The rest of the stories were equally well written, but all succumbed to the problem I have with short stories – they were too short! I longed for some plot, instead of just brief scenes.

The second story in the collection is Mary Postgate. It was written during WWI and it has been suggested that it is anti-German propaganda, but this is a disputed topic among Kipling scholars. It should have been a disturbing tale, but I remained unmoved. The subtlety of the words meant that I appreciated it much more on a second reading, but this appears to be one of those stories which benefits from being studied and discussed rather than just read once for pleasure.

The third story is called The Gardener and I have to admit that on completing it I had no idea what the point was. I didn’t understand what had happened until I found these notes on a Kipling site. Even this insight didn’t help me to appreciate the story. It is another story that needs to be studied to be enjoyed and I’m afraid that I just like to read a story without having to tease the significance out of individual sentences.

Overall I can see why these stories are significant, but they were too subtle for me.

Have you read anything written by Rudyard Kipling?

His novels are supposed to be very different. Do you think I’d enjoy them?

They is one of the Penguin Mini Modern Classics (a series of 50 books launched on 15th February). They can be bought individually for £3 each or as the beautiful Penguin Mini Modern Classics Box Set

1910s Books in Translation

The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) – Alain Fournier

Translated from the French by Robin Buss

Le Grand Meaulnes was first published in 1913 and is one of the most well known, and most loved classics in France today. It is, essentially, a fairy tale; the main character, Meaulnes, finds a mysterious house, with a beautiful girl hidden within it, but when he tries to return to the house, he cannot find it. For the rest of the book Meaulnes tries to discover what happened to him during his visit to the ‘Lost Estate’.

I read this book for Cornflower’s book group and I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed by it.

My Penguin classic copy of the book has a note on the translation which I think sums up some of my frustration:

“…the typical Fournier sentence, with its subordinate clauses separated by commas, giving a nervous feel to the writing..”

I’m not sure “nervous” is the right word, I found it annoying! The writing just didn’t flow very well. I don’t know enough about the French language to know if this is a more natural way of writing things in French, but I found it very off putting.

It has been described by many as a book which is “untranslatable” and for many reasons I feel this is probably the case. Translation from French to English loses the subtle double meanings for many of the words. The most obvious being the ‘grand’ of the title which can mean, big, tall, great, daring, noble….etc.

I thought the quality of the writing was also very patchy. Some scenes were quite good, but others seemed to have been thrown in randomly and didn’t seem very well thought out.

Overall, I got little pleasure from reading this book. I think it is probably best read in French, preferably at a young age. Some of the other members of the book group really enjoyed this book. If you have a vast knowledge of French culture, and enjoy reading individual dream like sequences then this may be a book for you, but I didn’t enjoy it.