Like The Trial, The Castle is the story of an unfortunate K who gets lost in a world of opaque bureaucracy. Unlike The Trial, K has not been punished for a crime he does not know about, instead he has been hired as a land surveyor by an administration at a Castle, who don’t know why they hired him in the first place, K is left puzzling over why he remains at the village by the Castle interacting with the people there.
He has a relationship with a barmaid who he later finds out he has to marry so gets engaged to her, he meets a landlady who is hostile to him. There are many more characters and scenarios K comes across in the story and because he is there by mistake they end up giving him a job in the village anyway. Once K gets to know more about the world he has entered he realises that the people of The Castle are separate from the villagers and look down on them, using the women for example to satisfy their sexual needs.
As in The Castle like in The Trial you never know an awful lot of what is going on until it is disclosed to you. K certainly does not. What the people of the Castle do exactly is not wholly known. K goes into the world at first with the best intentions but is left scratching his head as he plunges himself into this new society when all he needed to do was leave as soon as he could.
The Castle is famous for being one of Kafka’s unfinished works. For me this actually added to the story making it even more Kafkaesque (I really wanted to avoid saying that but it can’t be helped here). K is stuck in this world now, he likely will not leave. K is like a loud western tourist who shows up in Japan postwar or some other part of the world they know little about and has probably committed cultural faux pas after faux pas without realising it. K instead of taking a step back, ends up getting involved with and having a number of conversations and interactions one after the other, forgetting why he is there in the first place. Already as I type this (and especially when I was reading it) I am aware that I also am falling down the rabbit hole of writing about the conversations and scenarios along with K himself so I will stop there.
To anyone who wishes to read this, I highly recommend a certain degree of patience and to simply plunge into the story along with K and to take a step back after the end of each chapter to go over what you have read. I preferred The Trial by Kafka as the better story but that was purely because I found the story easier to follow, The Castle is intentionally making sure that you get stuck with K about what is going on and in a way that is they beauty of the novel.
[Penguin Classics, reprinted 2000. Fist published in 1926]