The good: Incredibly polished, detailed and assured – it’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel.
The not-so-good: I don’t know too much about Brod and Kafka, so I went into this cold.
Why I chose it: Shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and the winner of this year’s The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: Mainly Prague
Rating: 9 out of 10
I went into The Lost Pages knowing little about Franz Kafka and even less about Max Brod. All I knew was that this was an award winning novel and shortlisted for another (the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction). Then I opened it and was it had footnotes – swoon! Somehow my mind linked this to S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. The Lost Pages doesn’t have handwritten notes over the pages, but it has that sense of mystery and of a narrator on the edge.
The premise of the book is that a number of Max Brod’s papers have been found and scholars are piecing together his relationship with the much more famous Franz Kafka. This is his story of meeting Kafka for the first time and his increasing insecurity over Kafka’s writings. As the story opens, Brod is The Star of Prague’s literary world. He has one groupie (Uta) who follows him everywhere, but his sights are set on a more beautiful and mysterious woman. In 1908, his star is rising and women don’t seem to care that he’s not a perfect physical specimen. Enter Kafka. He’s someone who dares to doubt Brod, questioning his theory and what’s worse, one-upping him in talent. Brod is determined that Kafka shall never meet his publisher, nor should his works see the light of day. Kafka is about to steal everything Max desires – the fame, talent and woman. Max’s attempts to hide Kafka away from the word become increasingly harebrained until something snaps…
You may get more out of this story if you are knowledgeable about Kafka and Brod, but if you’re like me and know next to nothing about the pair, you will enjoy this story of desperate jealousy. Peričić weaves a deep, emotional tale that you can’t help but get tangled up in. The story has traits that everyone can relate to – that feeling of not being good enough to keep up with the next person, self-criticism and despair. Despite the strong feelings, it’s not a gloomy story. Rather it’s a tale of descent into madness, dramatic yet fragile. The emotion that comes from the pages is incredibly strong, as is the writing. I must admit to approaching this story initially with a bit of dread, not knowing how I would relate to this story. But don’t fear – Peričić’s writing is engaging and warm. Her creation of Max Brod’s mind is honest and bald – how could you not fall in love with someone so fragile and broken?
Kafka remains a shadowy enigma when told from Max’s point of view. To Max, Kafka is The Man. He has it all – wit, talent, beauty, the ability to entrance any woman and his own set of groupies. Kafka can do no wrong to the rest of the world. I loved this portrayal, it fit with what I thought I knew about him. The contrast between the two men is just perfect. As is the ending, which is wonderfully chaotic until it falls into place and I had an ‘aha!’ moment. So do give The Lost Pages a go – it’s a fantastic story, cleverly researched and masterfully told.