two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Castle in the ForestOnly after Alois Hitler beds his daughter, Klara, and makes possible the birth of Adolf, does the devil (called the Maestro) become interested in team Hitler. The Maestro dispatches Dieter, a mid-level devil masquerading as an SS officer, to the Hitler homestead, where it becomes clear early on that Adi is like none of the other neighborhood boys. He delights in watching beehives gassed and burned and becomes preternaturally obsessed with power. In scenes both operatic and chilling—even though Adolf’s legacy has long been written and Mailer stops his story shortly after Adi’s 14th birthday—Mailer renders the portrait of the dictator as a young man with seeming ease.
Random House. 496 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0394536495

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"This remarkable novel about the young Adolf Hitler, his family and their shifting circumstances, is Mailer’s most perfect apprehension of the absolutely alien. No wonder it is narrated by a devil. Mailer doesn’t inhabit these historical figures so much as possess them." Lee Siegel

Chicago Sun-Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Mailer turns out to be a far better storyteller than he is a muser on the nature of evil. You can forgive most of his out-of-this-world setup when the stuff on the ground—plotting, characters and action—are this engagingly drawn." John Barron

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Mailer has an inclusive vision of evil, one that embraces nurture, nature, and supernatural demonic forces, all of which come together in that perfect storm over the spick-and-span Hitler home. … Mailer paints an icy and convincing portrait of the dictator as a young sociopath, both prissy and sadistic, simultaneously sentimental and stupendously cruel." Jennifer Reese

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[On] the whole, though intriguing, this is an odd book—a sort of narrative parade, in which one event simply follows another without the heightened trajectory that we expect of a novel. Ending The Castle in the Forest as he does, with Hitler still a teenager, Mailer seems only to have prepared the material, not to have fully examined it." Ron Hansen

Houston Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"A fresh vision is what The Castle in the Forest lacks. Mailer has skimmed the vast lore of Hitler’s life and times—the novel has a six-page bibliography—and come up with a story that seems to blame the monstrousness of the future Führer on incest, toilet training and the devil." Charles Matthews

Rocky Mountain News 1.5 of 5 Stars
"That [Mailer] doesn’t always know how to arrange the bizarre contents of his fevered imagination into striking prose structured by clear goals and intentions is a burden readers have to bear if they wish to enjoy the titillation he offers. … The real problem with this book is that it does little to cast a light into the shadowed life of Hitler." Duane Davis

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The Castle in the Forest is a baffling, meandering, self-indulgent curio of a book—at moments brilliantly insightful and fascinating but more often prompting jaw-dropping incredulity. … The tone is arch and pompous; the dialogue throughout reads as if badly translated from rudimentary German." William Boyd

Critical Summary

After tackling Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ (The Gospel According to the Son), Lee Harvey Oswald, Picasso, Muhammad Ali, and others, Norman Mailer claimed that an insistent muse led him to the story of Hitler’s childhood. His first book in 10 years received mix reviews. Supporters opined that no matter how distasteful his subject, Mailer still exerts a powerful, mesmerizing hold on his readers. Detractors, however, cited a clumsy Freudian hypothesis (Hitler as possibly the offspring of father-daughter incest); too many distractions by the minion devil; undeveloped female characters; and a strange lack of psychological insight into Hitler’s evil. Nonetheless, even they agree that Mailer is a master prose stylist whose eccentricity never fails to engage—on some level.

Mailer’s Masterpiece

The Executioner’s Song (1979): Award Star Pulitzer Prize. In this "true life novel," Mailer relates the backstory and trial of murderer Gary Gilmore, who in 1977 became the first man executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty.