03 November 2007
The Castle in the Forest: A Novel by Norman Mailer
Random House, 2007
477 pages, paperback
I was walking by the Harvard Bookstore the other day and saw this book in the window. Intrigued, I went in and read the back, and promptly bought the book. I have hardly been able to put it down in 2 days. I am actually a little disappointed I finished it already, having spent most of this rainy afternoon with my nose in its pages.
It is, in short, seductive. But it is also a fiction and that point must be stressed when one is tackling such a subject as Adolf Hitler.
Mailer in subtle genius does not paint a portrait of Hitler himself, but instead examines the long and perverted path that formed him. He chooses to tell the story from the point of view of a demon, an agent of the Evil One or the "Maestro" as the narrator refers to him. This demon is assigned to watch the threads that will be woven into the monster of the 20th century.
Mailer begins not with the birth of Hitler, but with the incestuous roots of his father and mother's births, and finally to the unholy union that created Adolf himself. You cannot help but feel that the complex webs of lechery, lust, and sin that were at the advent of Hitler's conception could only produce a monster or a genius. They created both. The demon sketches with almost painstaking detail, the early years of Hitler's life. The history is rich with characters: his father Alois, his mother Klara, his half siblings Alois Jr. and Angela, and the siblings to come after him, Edmund, and Paula, and the bee keeper. Bee keeping is so interwoven in the narrative that one almost grows tired of its all consuming importance in the minds of the characters.
The commentary offered by the demon directs the reader along a winding road of events, and people that serve to imprint the young Adolf. The demon takes credit for much of this imprinting and you are almost lead to believe that the young Adolf was groomed to throw the world into chaos. But there are also subtle reminders that Adolf himself harbored much of these evils already at a young age and the demon only helped him along to higher goals.
The story ends with a pale faced young man who has sequestered himself in the confines of an apartment in Linz, with his mother and sister. He has just grown a mustache. That mustache would become an icon of evil. But for now, it is a fine downy upon the lip of an unhappy youth. The demon does not elaborate on Hitler's story beyond his teens. That story is unfortunately a reality of history.
Mailer weaves a narrative that creates more questions than answers. It is not a work of historical account, nor is it presented as such. It is book that attempts to determine the nature of a monster; to speculate and try to understand the internal and external forces that drove a young Adolf to become evil personified. The question of "Why?" is never answered, the question of "How" is explored to its darkest depths.