In portraying Hitler as the product of a diabolical incest, Norman Mailer has taken fictional ambition to a remote peak of implausibilityby Alexander Linklater / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer
(Little, Brown, £17.99)
There can be little doubt that The Castle in the Forest needs to be consigned at once to the underworld inhabited by Norman Mailer’s most remarkable fictional disasters. At times the novel ranks for ridiculousness alongside Ancient Evenings, his never-to-be-reread 1983 epic of ancient Egypt. But a closer analogy may be with Harlot’s Ghost, the interminably baggy über-narrative of the CIA he published in 1991, an opus which set out to embrace “the mind of America” and which concluded after 1,168 exhausting pages with an epigraph to confound even his most loyal readers: To be continued…
His long-awaited new novel may be less than half that length, but Mailer, in his eighties, has somehow found the energy to take fictional ambition to an even more remote peak of implausibility. Returning to the Mephistophelean psychologies of intelligence-gathering, this time within the historical circumstances of Hitler’s childhood, he casts an actual devil as his central narrative agent.
The Castle in the Forest opens with heart-stopping promise. Mailer’s narrator, writing in the present day, claims he was once an SS agent who worked for Himmler on his most secret enterprise: to uncover the origins of Hitler’s birth. The rumoured possibility that the führer had a Jewish grandfather, if true, would destabilise the entire Nazi project. But Himmler wished to pursue his own alternative theory, that racially inherited genius finds its purest incarnation in incest. In Mailer’s phantasmagoric scenario, Himmler’s agent, Dieter (or DT as he calls himself), produces evidence that Hitler’s mother was really his father’s daughter, thus satisfying the SS chief’s weirdest cravings.
And not only this. In the early chapters of the book, DT reveals that he was in fact no mere agent of Himmler, but a demon in human form, acting on behalf of an alt…