Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Review: The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer

The Castle in the Forest is the final fictional work by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer. It is a semi-fictional history of Adolf Hitler's family and upbringing, narrated by a mysterious being who had the responsibility of influencing events to bring out the worst in the young Adolf to mold him into an instrument of evil.

The premise of the story is intriguing and the early chapters draw the reader into a fascinating, but sordid history of the Hitler family with a literary, but readable style which, together with the innate fascination of the subject, turn this into something of a page-turner in its early stages. However, at some hard-to-pinpoint stage the tale seems to lose its way, as if the author lost his train of thought, and it becomes a very different sort of book indeed, becoming more mysterious and allegorical but losing something of its readability for that; in fact it becomes less enjoyable.

At two points the fanciful fiction of how Adolf Hitler became evil digresses to the point of irrelevance; once when the narrator rambles on about his role in Russia and for a second time where over 100 pages are devoted to Adolf's father's bee-keeping activities which draw the reader to create parallels with concentration camps but is then told that this is far to simple and explanation - why then make such a point of it?

These failing aside, Norman Mailer succeeds in weaving a picture of a child inherently evil, an evil nurtured by devils and his father's behaviour, with acts of coprophelia, sexual deviance, carelessness and domination to give the reader what they expect. What the reader does not expect, though, is such a weak ending whereby the story is wrapped up in a hurry, just at the point where Hitler is about to exhibit the results of his upbringing; a very unsatisfying conclusion that has the feel that it results from the author losing interest in the tale. If the author should lose interest then most certainly the reader will too and if there was some profound point being made here, then this reader certainly missed it, unless it was one of the many, very obvious and frequently voiced lessons we should learn from the history of Hitler, then if it was, why bother taking so many words to do so?

Whilst The Castle in the Forest is mostly a readable book and contains some interesting ideas, ultimately it is a real disappointment. Those interested in Adolf Hitler will certainly find something of interest here and anyone who enjoys thought-provoking stories will find some interesting ideas on the nature of evil, but those who wish to read a well-rounded tale will need to look elsewhere.

Score: 6/10

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