My inclination after reading the first story was what the hell? Then I remembered this was written in Germany in the early 1900s where the regime doesn't take too kindly to critique in print, although you can argue that at least one of the stories is a self-criticism. Yes this book is oblique and gloomy but well worth the effort. Everything is an allegory and a social commentary that makes you have to put the story into the correct context. This was next to impossible to put down. Makes me wish I didn't wait so long to read it.