0112 | The Reader – Bernhard Schlink


Context: Read this in a day and finished it with the cat next to me in the study at my mum’s place in Portugal.

Poignant, evocative, thought-provoking and strong. The Reader is an excellent novel which fits more into its few pages than most novelists manage in a lifetime of works.

Schlink deals so well with the Nazi past of Germany and its legacy I was amazed. I mean, what a topic to pick for a novel. It’s like handling plutonium – one false move and your reputation would be dead.

But this novel deals with it so so well. Not only that but other themes are also handled in such a careful way, you feel that you’ve embraced them rather than had them thrust upon you. I’ve not read Lolita yet but I’ll be interested to see how it compares re the issue of love between the generations.

Schlink’s prose may not be to everyone’s taste. If you like Coetzee, Tolbin or Hemingway, you’ll get on fine with this. But if Dickens or Tolstoy is more your cup of tea, you might find it a bit sparse.

For me though, using carefully selected prose only added to the poignancy of the topics, the characters and their relationships. Style aside, any reader will find this a moving novel. I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a film yet.

A couple of things caught me in the novel which weren’t central to the main theme. Early on, the narrator is confused about himself and his actions: “Often enough in my life I have done things I had not decided to do. Something – whatever that may be – goes into action, ‘it’ gos to the woman I don’t want to see any more, ‘it’ makes the remark to the boss that costs me my head” etc etc

Here, he is chewing over something that has kept philosophers busy since the time of Paul and before that. This is original sin, and Schlink distinguishes his behaviour from thoughts and decisions which he says are wholly his. This has important ramifications from what happens later in the novel and the way that he can view those who have been part of the Nazi regime and demonstrated horrific behaviour. The thing is though, at what point do we distinguish between instinctive behaviour and premeditated behaviour? How do we decide what amoral behaviour is in fact?

Later in the book, the narrator meets up with his father for a brief philosophical interlude. In it, his father advises that he sees “no justification for setting other people’s views of what is good for them above their own ideas of what is good for themselves.” I found this food for thought, especially as his only concession was if the issue was one of inherited responsibility. Then “one must try to open his eyes” to what he is blind too.

It is concerns such as these that litter this small novel with vast moral crevasses and it is much the better for it.

When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis.

It was the first and only time I stood there.

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  1. Hmmm… this book [believe it or not] has the distinction of being the only novel I have ever sat down with, and did not…. UNSIT……… until I was finished the thing.
    It was that engrossing, for me.
    It’s a wonderful book. Great review here, Arukiyomi.

  2. yeah I can totally relate to that Cip. Good to hear from you again after so long BTW. Sorry I’ve been soooooooooo slack commenting on everyone else’s blogs but I’ve only literally today sat down in the place I’ll be until December. Five months without moving around will be something of a novelty for me I feel.

    Thanks again!

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