If, on the 100th anniversary of its publication, you want to do a radio broadcast of a novella famously appreciated for its surface weirdness and more rarely appreciated for its sharp sense of humor, it only stands to reason that you’d hire a famous reader with famously appreciated surface oddness and more rarely appreciated sharp sense of humor of his own. I can only assume BBC Radio 4 followed a similar line of thinking when, to record Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (find the text in our collection of Free eBooks), they brought in Sherlock and The Imitation Game star Benedict Cumberbatch.
They’ll air the reading in four parts. The first and second episodes, in which luckless salesman Gregor Samsa inexplicably wakes up as an insect and faces the wrath and fear of his family, have already come available online for your listening pleasure; the next two episodes, when the insectified Samsa grows accustomed to his new form only to come into mortal conflict with his father and the newly dire financial straits of his household, will appear over the next two weeks on the production’s episode guide.
And if the idea of this mundane and monstrous tale told in the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch appeals to you, don’t delay. The BBC’s site will only let you stream it until June 10th (though currently you can find it online here.)
If you still have doubts, see also “Why Benedict Cumberbatch Is the Perfect Actor to Read Kafka’s Metamorphosis” by Slate’s Rebecca Schuman. “Cumberbatch’s trademark style is a withering, perfectly enunciated deadpan whose inflections somehow betray, three-fourths of the way through any sentence, sincere doubts that everyone will be in on the joke,” she writes. “Even better, this is poker face the way Kafka wrote it: tinged with at least some amount of creepiness, thanks to Cumberbatch’s unique ability to both look and sound like a very genteel sociopath.”
For less Cumberbatch-inclined Kafka enthusiasts, we also have this free audiobook of The Metamorphosis, which should remain available indefinitely. It’s recorded by Librivox.
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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.