The Devil Didn't Make Him Do It

The Castle In The Forest by Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer’s last novel is “The Castle In The Forest”. I picked up the book at some airport bookstore while traveling. A few months ago I finished “The Gospel According To The Son” and thought this would be a great follow-up even though I usually never read the same author back-to-back. Unlike the previous novel, I was able to get through Castle in a few days but not because it is a great book. Reason? The devil made me do it.

I found the story difficult to understand, über complex and for the most part, a stretch. And when I was done I was relieved. But then, a few days later, something happened. Mailer had preoccupied me. Not only that Mailer had bitch-slapped a nerve in my subconscious with Castle. Wow. I’m really glad I didn’t give up on this book. I eventually realised that Castle is über-brilliant writing. If you let it, Mailer can really get into your head with his personal obsessions.

Speaking of which. Mailer is obsessed with three basic things in this book. The first is evil. The second is sex. And the third is contempt.

“We devils have known for a long time that a mediocre mind, once devoted entirely to one mystical idea, can obtain a mental confidence well beyond its normal potential.”

The book is narrated by a demon who has taken human form in the body of a former SS officer. This demon tells the story of Adolf Hitler and how he came to be. Which brings me to Mailer’s viewpoint on Austrian sex. Mailer even won the Bad Sex In Fiction award for penning Hitler’s conception. The problem is, Mailer doesn’t stop with describing Austrian procreation. There is a strange obsession throughout the text regarding human anatomy and the places where excrement and sex mix as though these two things only apply to Austrians and/or Germans. But there’s also a bit more.

“Adolf’s style of masturbation had also altered. His practice in the forest had been to spew all over the nearest leaves. (He loved leaves and he loved spewing on them.) Now, locked behind the door to his room, he kept a handkerchief at the ready. Yet, before he would allow his thoughts to lift beyond his control, he would practice holding his arm in the air at a forty-five-degree angle for a long time.”

This book is both challenging and cumbersome to read. But once you’ve done it, leave it on a table for a few months and glance at it again and again. Mailer story telling is Übermenschlich. What an achievement.

Rant on.