THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST by Norman Mailer (Random House), 477 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If you're a Norman Mailer admirer, you'll like The Castle In The Forest, and if you hate him you will loathe this fictionalized biography of Adolf Hitler.
The book thumps away at all Mailer's usual obsessions. There's tons of sexual content. In this case, the sex quotient comes via Adolf's father, Alois, whose priapic predisposition - described, typical of Mailer, with almost too much gusto - gets him into all kinds of trouble. Adolf's mother may, in fact, be Alois's daughter.
Incest, which, in this case, has never been proved, is nevertheless essential to Mailer's take on Hitler. His primary interest is in how evil can be bred, and he sees this twisted aspect of Hitler's family tree as an important piece of the puzzle.
But the cleverest stratagem of The Castle is its narrator, Dieter, agent of the Devil himself. Here Mailer goes deep into his lifelong exploration of good and evil, waxing eloquent (sometimes wanking) on Satan's relationship to God. A particularly amusing po-mo moment marks Dieter's detour describing how he and his cohorts triggered the riot at Nicholas II's coronation, when he tells us beforehand which page we should flip to if we just want to get on with Hitler's story.
Time has taken nothing away from this writer's prose. It's vintage Mailer, with long, serpentine sentences rich in metaphor and vivid imagery. A section on Alois's attempts to raise bees flies off the page.
But despite the fact that it's a consistently fascinating read, The Castle doesn't solve the mystery of the creation of one of history's most vicious villains. This is really Alois's story and, as such, falls short of Mailer's goal.
As for Mailer's megalomania, it hasn't softened with age. You need a ton of ego to try to pull off something like this.
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