Book Review: The Meowmorphosis
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The Meowmorphosis
By Franz Kafka & Coleridge Cook
Paperback | Kindle
Quirk Classics
Release date: May 10, 2011

I’m a big fan of the Quirk Classics line of literary mash-ups and every time I’ve reported the news on another new title being released, I’ve done so with great enthusiasm. It all started with their insertion of zombies into Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and it’s been the infusion of humor, absurdity, preposterousness into otherwise serious, dramatic stories that has keep me coming back for more.

What also keeps me intrigued with this imprint is how they reveal their new titles. It all starts with just the name of the upcoming book — when you hear a title like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you immediately think, “I have to check this out!” Then, they hit you with the book’s cover, and while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, let’s face it, the cover is a big part of what grabs your attention.

Last year, when I read that their new offering would be called The Meowmorphosis, I thought, “Uh-oh, are they putting cats into Kafka’s The Metamorphosis?” and as it turns out, that’s just what they did.

The Meowmorphosis, co-written by Coleridge Cook, takes Franz Kafka‘s most famous literary creation, the traveling salesman Gregor Samsa, and turns him into a big fluffy kitten. While that sounds a little crazy, Kafka’s version morphed poor Gregor into a giant insect!

In the original novel, the hardworking young Gregor, who is the sole support for his parents and younger sister, wakes up one morning to find that he’s somehow been turned into a giant insect. Once his family realizes what happened to him, it takes getting used to, and it’s his sister who shoulders the responsibility of tending to her meowmorphosed [yuk yuk] brother. It’s that Gregor is a huge insect, a being that’s considered grotesque that most people want to kill on sight, that is part of what’s so unbearable for his family. Therefore, turning him into a kitten, an animal that’s not only a common household pet, but one that’s considered to be adorable, doesn’t quite capture the horror in the same way as the original.

The first third of The Meowmorphosis is straight from its source material, except all mentions of insects and insect behavior have been changed to kitten and feline adjectives. Unfortunately, insects and kittens have little in common, so swapping out a few words doesn’t always work. For instance, when the kitten Gregor has trouble moving, it makes little sense as he now has feline limbs and reflexes. It’s not the same as when an insect cannot turn its body over, so scenarios like this that are left from the original make little sense.

The middle of The Meowmorphosis is where the story strays from the original and gets exciting, as Gregor escapes his room and heads towards the outside world where he meets more of his kind and learns a little about why these physical changes might have occurred. Cook does this by bringing Gregor into the landscape of other Kafka works, like The Trial. In The Metamorphosis, not only does Gregor never find out why he was stricken with this fate, he never even questions it. Having the protagonist not know why they are in a certain predicament — and not revealing the answer even to the reader — is a common occurrence in Kafka’s works, so it’s interesting that Cook tries to finally give us some insight here. This is the most entertaining part of the book.

Judging by Quirk’s previous mash-ups and a name like The Meowmorphosis, I really expected this book to be heavy on the humor, but it really wasn’t. Kafka’s version takes something as absurd as a man waking up as a giant insect with no discernible cause and makes it as serious as can be and, more importantly, believable. The entire time, you’re wondering, what will become of Gregor? How will his family survive without him? Will we ever know what caused this? Is this some kind of penance that Gregor must do for some ill choices in life? As he struggles, we sympathize; as his family becomes more and more distant from him, we grow closer to him, hoping that somehow his life will turn around. In the end, we learn a lesson about the entire family. In The Meowmorphosis, I found I did not empathize with Gregor in the same way, nor did I react to his family’s mentality the way I originally did. In actuality, I became increasingly depressed with the feline version of this tale.

Where the humor finally comes in is not within the actual story, but in the Appendix, “The Curious Life of Franz Kafka, author of The Meowmorphosis,” where Cook gives us a version of the author’s life that interestingly has many references to cats. More humor is had in the last few pages in the Discussion Questions sections — this is what I thought the whole book would be like!

A major letdown also comes with the dozen or so illustrations spread throughout the book (as well as the cover). While other Quirk books have hand-drawn illustrations that I felt were an enhancement for the reading experience, the ones here by Matthew Richardson look like botched photoshop jobs that do nothing to complement the story. Again, perhaps if this had been a humorous take on The Metamorphosis, then maybe I could have dealt with the images, but as it stands, the pictures add nothing but corniness. Also, we’re supposed to think that the transformed Gregor is a hideous monstrosity, yet in all the illustrations, he’s presented as a cute little kitten we’d love to cuddle!

While it has many depressing elements to it, The Metamorphosis is a story that I enjoyed, therefore, some of the aspects I liked in the original that made it into this mash-up were still enjoyable to me. Also, Gregor’s foray into the outside world into other Kafka creations, was an interesting portion of the book, as it answered some questions and also was a welcomed surprise, having not been a part of the original book. But otherwise, The Meowmorphosis is probably not going to wow any fans of Kafka’s original story and might leave those unfamiliar with The Metamorphosis a bit confused with the gravity given to Gregor’s circumstances in certain scenarios.

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