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    The Castle in the Forest

    The Castle in the Forest

    Author: Norman Mailer

    Published: 2007

    496 Pages

    The first time I discovered Mailer was in an English class at SBU. We read his short non-fiction piece, ‘Why Are We at War?’ I found his writing not just revolutionary, but seething and hotheaded. His thoughts echoed mine, but much more eloquently and with better audacity. From then on, I vowed to read everything that he’d ever write. Fortunately, I was just treated to his latest novel, ‘The Castle in the Forest,’ his first novel in 10 years. Mailer’s genius is the pick of his story – an account of Adolf Hitler’s coming of age. Unlike his non-fiction works, this novel is cold and calculating, presenting an incredible manifestation of evil. And so far, I find no reason to hold you back from this book or any of Mailer’s creations for that matter.

    Unlike his other works, the narrator here is not Mailer, but a devil who goes by the name of Dieter. Dieter, who lives in the body of an SS man, begins the story with a prologue about what is to come:

    ”It is more than a memoir and certainly has to be most curious as a biography since it is as privileged as a novel. I do possess the freedom to enter many a mind.”

    Working for Satan (or rather The Maestro, as Mailer refers to him), Dieter brings to light a truly dysfunctional nineteenth century middle-class Austrian household that gave rise to the nascent evil of Hitler. Known in his youger days as Adi, Hitler is born from the incenstuous union of a dry domineering civil servant, Alois, and an extravagantly indulging mother, Klara. In no time, his peculiar tendencies are discovered, including an obsession with feces, his self-image, and mass slaughter, as evidenced by the joy he derives from burning beehives.

    Dieter’s commentary is similar to that of a storyteller, subtly injecting what side he takes. He recounts the boy’s growing ego and ability to manipulate the weak minded. His asides are what I found the most intriguing:

    ‘Spirits like myself can attend events where they are not present. I was in another place, therefore, on the night Adolf was conceived. Yet I was able to ingest the exact experience by calling upon the devil (of lower rank) who had been in Alois’ bed on the primal occasion … A minor devil can, on the most crucial occasions, implore the Evil One to be present with him during the climax. (The Maestro encourages us to speak of him as the Evil One when he does choose to enter sexual acts, and on that occasion, he was certainly there).’

    This cosmology and inner workings of evil fill the novel with such a somber background that you will be forced to dwell on how deep evil can seep in. My only complaint was that the Dieter’s tone is irritatingly pompous. No one likes a know-it-all, and the facade of pompousness will get to some readers. But, you have to realize that Hitler’s arrogance indirectly resembles that of Dieter’s. In fact, what I drew from his account was that evil simply had more than one form.

    ‘The Castle in the Forest’ is a shocker, which is part of what makes it fascinating. Yet, it is incredibly insightful and fascinating in the most unnoticeable ways. Even at 84, Mailer’s evil does not hesitate from embracing religion, metaphysics and even perverted sexual desires. The novel is undoubtedly very Freudian and psychoanalytic. Yet, Hitler’s portrait is so compelling that it leaves you feeling short-breathed in the pits of someone that monstrous.

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