Monday, September 24, 2012

The Golem

The GolemThe Golem by Gustav Meyrink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While the story of The Golem alone deserves four stars as Gustav Meyrink's masterpiece, the Tartarus Press edition, of which I happen to be a fortunate owner, pushes the book-as-artifact into the five star category. This book is one of my most prized possessions, one of the books I'll reach for if the library ever catches fire. Everything about it screams "I defy you to find another book as cool as me". From the outstanding internal artwork to the silk ribbon marker to the weight of the pages themselves, this is a book of quality workmanship through and through. If I could own all of my favorite books in a Tartarus hardcover edition such as this, I might do nothing but read the rest of my life, starving to death in an easy chair under the light of a reading lamp.

As several reviewers have pointed out, The Golem is obtuse. It is clearly not the story of the golem as dramatized in the silent movies directed by Paul Wegener. This book is much less forthright in its horror, if it can be called horrific at all. I think that "unsettling" is a more accurate term. The heavy mysticism and symbolism Meyrink employs simultaneously draws in and distances the reader, making for an uneven read that sets up a disturbing cadence in the reader's mind. This can be aggravating at times, and absolutely captivating at others. One always feels that there's something just around the next bend, emotionally and intellectually speaking. I wonder if Meyrink didn't intend the book to read this way. In this way, he is much like Kafka, but on a more ethereal plane, if you will. Where Kafka creates unease with a sharp dose of uncaring bureaucracy, Meyrink plays hide and seek with shadows that may be interpreted as real demons or as the slow nightmare of a collective unconsciousness. It is because of this openness to interpretation that one reading is really insufficient to judge the work. The Golem, while not as hallucinatory as some think (those who haven't read it) or hope (those who were looking for an early surrealist Gothic tale) , is also not as incomprehensible as some reviewers complain. It is not an easy read, but, like many difficult reads, it is rewarding to wander Prague's streets in search of Meyrink's elusive creature.

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