Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Golem by Gustav Meyrink

I can't remember how I ended up with this book....ah yes... I went a searching for one book and found another.  It went like this (I'm sorry this tale doesn't have much of an arc but I want to tell it anyway):

My husband, Josh and I have become addicted to the seventies'  TV show Columbo.  I could devote a whole post to the brilliance of that show but suffice to say, I was looking up background information on the show and discovered that the creator, William Link, who said that his idea for his seemingly bumbling, polite, "obtuse", but actually shrewd detective came from two other fictional characters:  Porfiry Petrovich, the detective in Crime and Punishment, and Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton's priest detective.  Other sources say that he was also inspired by a French Detective, Inspector Fichet in the suspense/thriller Les Diaboliques.

That last novel I had never hear of so off I went hunting it down.  It brought me to a nineteenth century Victorian porn writer, Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, which brought me to The Golem. (On Amazon, it was one of those, "if you like this you will also like this").

Ironically, I went after the wrong book.  The book that was actually being referred to was Diabolique  by Pierre Boilleau.

But it did bring me to a number of other books that are known for their intense psychological drama.

The Golem was one of them.

The Golem takes place in the Jewish Ghetto in Prague two centuries ago.  The story traces the life of a jeweler, Athanasius Pernath. Everything that happens is through the filter of his minds' lens.  He feels as though he is being spiritually kidnapped by someone or something that is taking over his body and making him perform deeds against his will. 

Naturally his friends think he is crazy and he becomes very ill.  There are different characters, who enter into his life, usually coming to his shabby apartment and speaking to him.  They all have pretty strange stories to tell.

One man, Innocence Charousek, tells him how he and another man manipulated a local Doctor into  committing suicide.  They did this because the doctor was falsely diagnosing patients with glaucoma and operating on them for the money.  His test to prove they needed it involved a procedure that often left the patients blind or with  permanently damage vision.

There is another man who lives across the street, Aaron Wassertrum, who is a slimy, conniving cheat and also a murderer.  He has a doll of the Golem and it is suggested that it is he who is kidnapping Pernath's body to do what he wants.  Wassertrum's daughter, Rosina, is a depraved flirt, that drives some men mad with desire, leading to the murder of one of the men by her father.

Or at least Pernath believes so.  Everything we know of is happening inside his mind so it's not definite what has actually happened.

There is a sense of desperation in all the characters.  They are all severely poor and even starving.

One man seems to serve as a beacon of light, Rabbi Schemajah Hillel who is learned in the Talmud and Torah but also heavily ensconced in the Kabbalah.

This book is heavily ensconced in the Kabbalah. A mysticism permeates throughout its storyline.  Pernath ends up going to jail for the murder that probably Wassertrum committed.  While there he meets another man, Amadeus Laponder, who has achieved some kind of mystical union with others while he sleeps and becomes those people.  He has committed murder under this trance like state.

The strangest part of the story is that all of it is really being narrated by an unnamed third party who is living almost one hundred years after all the events take place.  Somehow he accidentally exchanged hats with the elderly Pernath in a bar and had an out of body experience where he was living inside the mind of Pernath during the story.  At the end, the narrator finally comes to himself and seeks to return the hat  to its now very old owner.

Every character, with the exception of Charousek, live in despair and moral lostness.  Meyrink spent his life seeking some otherworldly spiritual existence and this is reflected in his literature. Two silent films at the turn of the twentieth century were made based on Meyrink's book.

What does the story have to do with Columbo?  Absolutely nothing, thank goodness.  I'll stick to loveable self-effacing detectives next time.

However, I plan to read Boileau's  Diabolique as soon as I get the chance.


  1. I loved this post Sharon.

    This story does indeed sound dark but interesting.

    I have heard that Diabolique was a great book and I would like to read it also. I am a fan of the 1955 film.

    I also agree that Columbo was a superb television show.

    1. HI Brian. I read that there is a Hitchcock movie out there based on the book and that there is also a French movie that inspired Hitchcock. I hope to read the book first and then watch the movies.
      Have a good week!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.