Latest Review: "Kafka's Hat" by Patrice Martin
Patrick is pumping out these book reviews for us, and has much to say about Kafka’s Hat, the title of which, I’ll admit, makes me want to giggle. As does Wigrum. I don’t think I can explain why. Though it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve been up before 06.30 every morning for the past week and had to sit through my first ever jury duty pooling. SPOILER ALERT: I made it to the penultimate round and was sent home in the end. And now it’ll be another eight years before I can make my high school mock trial dreams come true. In Monroe County, at least.
ANYWAY! Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review, on a book that definitely seems worth checking out (and not just out of jury duty boredom):
Quebecois author Patrice Martin’s first book, translated into English by Chantal Bilodeau as Kafka’s Hat and published by Talon, is strongly influenced by Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Paul Auster. I’m putting this up front because it is something Martin really, really wants you to know. These authors are named in the jacket copy, all three are quoted for epigraphs, all three are repeatedly mentioned, quoted, or read during the course of the book, and, in the end, all three make their own parodic appearances. There is also, of course, Martin’s claim to Kafka, with the hat of the title playing the MacGuffin and a single initial protagonist, P. However, a stronger comparison, though with less claim to groundbreaking heights, would be Murakami—strange things happen to characters for no reason; their boring, private, structured lives are broken and exchanged with interesting, surprising ones; characters repeatedly make sudden decisions “without knowing exactly what is motivating [them]”; and, of course, love is found suddenly, by chance. It is this last reference point that says the most about what Martin accomplishes, rather than what he aspires to accomplish.
The first and longest of the book’s three sections focuses on the protagonist P. Set up as an analogue to Kafka’s Ks, he instead begins as something more interesting, and anxiety-inducing. His is a world of the mundane—when he enters a cab, he “exchang[es] a few banalities with the driver about the weather, chronic traffic jams and the New York tourist season”—so when he is given a mission by the Boss at Stuff & Things, Co., his one thought is to accomplish this business in order to be a good, successful, productive, and eventually rewarded employee. P. is not particularly interested in the importance of the hat of a famous writer, in fact he cannot remember who the writer is. His only interest comes from wondering why the Boss could want such a hat, what importance a writer could have to such an important business man. The mission and its strange interruptions begin P.’s break from what he believes about himself.
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