Norman Mailer (2 stars)

The Castle in the Forest (Little, Brown)


No one should deny Norman Mailer’s right to create novels about whatever the hell he wants. Much gnashing of teeth has already occurred in Germany over an octogenarian alpha male from Massachusetts writing about the darkest days of their nation; or more specifically, knocking up a fictionalised account of Adolf Hitler’s childhood. Narrated by a postmodern representative of Satan (hopping in and out of the story as though his tail is ablaze), we follow the genesis of evil from conception to teenhood, cutting the story off at 1905, with Mailer promising a follow-up about how Hitler’s obsession with the Jews came about. Certainly, it’s not explained in any way here, making the trawl through his vastly-researched, largely tedious 470 pages seem rather pointless.

So, what do we learn here? Well, that Hitler may have been a product of incest; that his dad beat him while his mother doted on him; that he felt stricken with guilt for the early death of his brother Edmund and he was a leader of boys when it came to war games in the fields. Oh, and he possessed just the one testicle, a fact which surely every teenage boy on the planet must be well aware of, even to the point of knowing where to locate the other one (the Albert Hall). The Castle in the Forest is not a book that should never have been written; it’s a book that could have been so much better.

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