The story of Joseph K., who is arrested one morning and is accused of a crime that is never made explicit or stated in any way. The novel takes you through his nightmarish journey, in effect a descent rapidly into a circle of hell, from which he does not escape, but where his situation only gets increasingly worse and more disturbing.
When I first read this at the age of 14, I was bowled over by it; truly overwhelmed, stunned and impressed. I returned to it at the age of 42, and re-reading it now, it remains a genuine modern classic of fiction that is one of the very best at conveying the qualities of claustrophobia, nightmare, feeling trapped, as a scenario for its principal character, Joseph K. (who narrates his tale of bizarre desperation), and similarly for the reader 'trapped' with him in his narration.
The only - and significant - negative experience on re-reading, that I hadn't recognised at all on first reading it as a teen (probably unsurprisingly, given sexist social conditioning when I was a child!) is how negative and sexually objectifying Joseph K.'s portrayal of women is; not one of them has a true identify of her own; they are all possessed and have no sense of self-worth or meaning other than as defined through men. I say Joseph K., the character's viewpoint, because in Kafka's letters to Felice and other women, I don't recall the writer having such a sexist, ugly perception and attitude towards women.
Still, highly recommended, it is a true work of literature that, having created a whole realm of fiction under the epithet 'Kafkaesque' transcends the normal boundaries of fiction and is both horror, dark fantasy, and literary at the same time (see my review of Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, the contemporary Hungarian writer, for the one genuinely remarkable successor to Kafka and his The Trial).show more