Kafka's Trial is one of those books that are always present in cultural sphere and referenced ad nauseum. Despite never having read Kafka before I am quite sure I used the word 'Kafkaesque' on many occasions and maintained a semi-eloquent conversation about 'The Trial'.
I could've probably done without ever reading it but recently I resolved to take my literary pursuits seriously and since books seem to be the only thing in this world I truly care for I might as well take it to another level.
'The Trial' does not have any plot to speak of and character development is non-existent. There aren't actually any characters that take any human shape. There is no conflict or resolution and the only epiphany is the one you might or might not have at the end of it. Truth be told, 'The Trial' is nothing but an allegory.
An allegory of what is up to you to decide. I think I interpret it on the most universal level and see The Trial as a symbol of human existence. We don't know why we are here, how it is going to end and even what the rules of the game are. Yet, we take this frustrating journey trying to make sense of it, comforted by little meaningless bogus victories that fool us into believing some progress has been made. We long ago learnt that the 'actual acquittal' is unattainable but we refuse to give up.
This is how I see it. However, many literary critics and other smart people see it differently and that is their prerogative.
There is, for example, a quite interesting theory that 'The Trial' was born as an inmediate result of the break-up of Kafka's engagement to Felice Bauer. Felice Bauer was, one might say, an uncomplicated woman. She was Kafka's muse and his anchor in the reality. Kafka needed her to write and to stay sane. What Felice got out of the affair is unclear as her letters didn't survive. No doubt, it must have been frustrating as Kafka's idea of love was definitely not a healthy one. Their relationship consituted mostly of letters and occasional meetings which made Kafka the happiest just after they were over. He did finally propose to Felice but emphasized he would be a rather rubbish husband as he was simply not cut out for family life. And so it went on. If anyone felt like they were on an endless, incomprehensible trial, it was, in my opinion, Felice. But, of course, Franz maintains it was him - because finally Felice's friends and relatives decided to put an end to it, called Kafka in, forced him to knock it off and leave the poor girl alone. That meeting/interrogation was his 'trial'.
Now, I don't want to entertain this theory because if it is true, I would have to reduce the rating for 'Trial' to some 2-3 stars and put it on my 'brats' shelf I have for selfish, woe-is-me individuals acting like brats.
I prefer to stick to the human-existence allegory which I find quite moving in its Weltschmertz way.
If you are interested in further reading on the subject, check John Banville's article about Kafka's Trial and his affair with Fraulein Bauer here:
You can also find fictionalised (by Francine Prose) letter from Felice Bauer to Kafka in this collection of invented love letters : Four Letter Word: Invented Correspondence from the Edge of Modern Romance. The letter is written by Felice long after Kafka's death and basically asserts that Kafka was a dick.
(The cover up there is not of the edition I read but I am feeling it a lot more.)