Norman Mailer, now 84 years old, has just published his first novel in a decade. And what becomes immediately clear is that age has done little to stop Mailer from taking his trademark literary risks. Just as he felt free to inhabit the mind of Jesus in The Gospel According to the Son (1997), he has now dared to get deep inside another world-historical figure, the anti-Christ figure of the last century, Adolph Hitler. Narrated by a minion of Satan, who otherwise masquarades as a former SS officer named Dieter, The Castle in the Forest takes a Freudian look at Hitler’s youth and his tangled familial relationships. But how well Mailer pulls it off is open to debate. Up front, it’s worth mentioning that you can freely access the first chapter of the new book and start judging for yourself. And, for that matter, you can also get Mailer’s own take on the book in this NPR interview. However, if you want some guidance before deciding whether to plunge into this lengthy book (450+ pages), you can check out the reviews that have started rolling out. So far, assessments are mixed: The audio podcast issued by The New York Times Book Review (which is itself based on a thoughtful review appearing in print) considers Mailer’s latest to be among his best. But it’s an opinion that stands somewhat alone, at least so far. The reviews in The Washington Post and the English version of Germany’s Spiegel Online take less glowing positions, and, as you’d expect, the criticism is more strident and politically-charged over in Europe, Germany in particular.
Finally, we leave you with this — Mailer reading from his new work, describing the conception of Hitler, as told from the devil’s perspective, in somewhat racy terms. (NOTE: the video quality is very Youtube-esque, but it gets the job done):
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