Friday, June 03, 2011

Book Review - The Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

The Meowmorphosis
Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook
Quirk Publishing
Trade Paperback
208 Pages
Published Date: 05.10.2011
ISBN: 9781594745034


The Meowmorphosis is a literary mash-up* or blend similar in technique to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and is produced by the same publishing house, Quirk. This story, however, does not embrace vampires or zombies or even sea monsters or robots. Instead, it re-vamps Franz Kafka’s dark classic The Metamorphosis and replaces the insects with cats. For the most part, large portions of this book are word-for-word redrafts of the original text, modified slightly with the words “kitten/cat” substituted for “insect/beetle” and references to meowing, pawing, and playful kitten antics replacing all things insect-like. And that’s the real problem with this rewritten mash-up. There’s really nothing new or creative or disturbing or frightening about this work and the substitution of the cats for insects diminishes greatly from the dark and foreboding nature of the original. It suffers under this conversion and all its Kafkaesque is lost. While on the outside a substitution mash-up of The Metamorphosis might appear to be a winning combination this narrative is nowhere near as strong as the other works mentioned above. Franz Kafka sometimes wrote absurd, distorted, often sinister stories and those peculiarities do not carry over well in this type of mash-up. I think the romantic period comedies are better suited for this style. Zombies in Victorian England? Well, that just makes all kinds of sense. But supplanting kittens for cockroaches? To me that’s just plain weird. Seriously though, waking up as an unclean, much-maligned, and disease-ridden insect can never compare to the same transformation as a cuddly, soft, warm kitty. The ramifications are nowhere near as astonishing or fear-inducing. The entire “creep factor” is lost when this replacement is made. And believe me when I tell you that the underlying dreadfulness of the morphed insect is the best thing about The Metamorphosis. In Kafka’s original story transforming into an insect becomes a social commentary on alienation, about being set apart from humanity. By substituting a cat for an insect the important distinction of fear and estrangement is less impactful in my mind’s eye. The Meowmorphosis comes off considerably more adorable than creepy, more charming than dark, and more familiar than alienating. On the surface, transforming The Metamorphosis into a mash-up probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it just doesn’t work and probably should have been left alone.

3 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

More mash-ups I’d like to see (or maybe not):
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Cthulhu
A Connecticut Werewolf in King Arthur’s Court
Jane Eyre Vampire Slayer
Little Women of the Apocalypse
War and Pieces – A Zombie Tale
Alice’s Adventures in Flatland
Oliver Twist and the Cannibals
Westward Lo!
The Merchant of Hades
The Wonderful Wizard of Claws
Romeo and Dracula – A Modern Love Story
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Fever
Much Ado About Zombies
Orcs and Crake
(Anyone have any other suggestions?)

Additional Reading:

Quirk’s The Meowmorphosis Page

The Meowmorphosis Book Trailer

Take Five with Coleridge Cook

Note: For a better mash-up of The Metamorphosis (and to see where this idea probably came from) I recommend Peter Capaldi’s Oscar-winning short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The plot of the film has the author trying to write the opening line of The Metamorphosis and experimenting with various things that Gregor might turn into, such as a banana or a kangaroo. The film is also notable for a number of Kafkaesque moments.

* The literary mash-up is basically, a classic work of literature (e.g., War and Peace ), with added elements of current pop culture (zombies or  vampires or robots ) with the resulting work an updated version of the original literary classic (War and Pieces – A Zombie Tale.)

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