by Norman Mailer
This is the first time that I’ve ever read a Norman Mailer novel. In fact, my only other experience with him has been a brief mention of his name in a Savage Garden song:
I am anything I want to be.
I could be a super model or Norman Mailer
And you wouldn't know the difference
Or would you?
But I guess it turns out that Norman Mailer has popped out a couple of popular books over the years - The Executioner’s Song won the Pulitzer Prize and The Naked and the Dead was voted one of the “100 Best Novels in English (20th century)” by Modern Library – so when an abridged audio version of The Castle in the Forest I felt like I ought to give the great author a listen, especially since in the book he tackles the early years of history’s most notorious villain…Adolf Hitler.
Our narrator is an SS man named Dieter, researching Hitler’s genealogy for Heinrich Himmler. However, as he reveals the secrets of Hitler’s family - Adolf was the product of incest, his sister was retarded, and so on – he reveals that he was present during Hitler’s childhood, because the SS man is actually a demon working for Satan himself. It was his duty to help mold young Hitler, the demon’s client “Adi”, for the Devil’s use by manipulating childhood events. He shares the intimate details from several years of the boy’s life, as Adi played war games with other boys, learned the art of beekeeping from a creepy child molester of a neighbor, and develops obsessions with power, death and feces.
I really didn’t like this book for a number of reasons. The crass vulgarity was the biggest reason. It seemed like every few pages someone was talking about either shit or sex. I suppose one could argue that these are the two huge components of human life and that the real wonder is why they don’t figure more prominently in more novels, but whatever. It’s gross! It seems worthwhile to mention here that this book did win an award – the 2007 Bad Sex Award from Literary Review. Trust me, it deserved it, as the winning passage will illustrate for you:
“Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.
The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again!”
The whole book is written in this style, so I feel like I could end right here with a pretty clear justification for why listening this book was so painful. But there were plenty of other issues, too.
Actually, one of the biggest problems for me was the simple fact that the premise didn’t work. The revelation of the demonic nature of the narrator happens fairly early on, but it seems to come out of nowhere, and it never really gels with the main story. He doesn’t seem to directly interact with his “clients”, by and large, so all his various mentions of the Devil and the Dummkopf (the nickname Satan and his minions have bestowed upon God, apparently) serve no purpose in the story save to remind the reader that he’s there. I guess one could argue that this is how demons work – it’s not that they are active agents in the world so much as influencing events so subtly that one never notices them directly. But in this narrative, it doesn’t add a thing.
Lots of Freudian influence here in the way that Mailer/Dieter interpret the events of Hitler’s childhood.
This book reminded me a bit of The Little Book, another book I read that dealt with a lot of bad sex, incest and whatnot. It even had some Hitler thrown in. Not that the two books are the same at all – I just felt like they were aiming for the same audience, whoever that might be. Definitely not me.
1 out of 5 stars
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