Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
First published (in the UK) by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in 1997 (this edition by Phoenix in 2008) - First published in German in 1995 as ''Der Vorleser''

Description (from the back cover)
For 15-year-old Michael, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. Before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems.

Years later, as a student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to find Hanna in the dock. The woman he loved is a war criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. Hanna must answer for a horrible crime, but she is desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

My thoughts
As most (if not all) of you will know, The Reader was made into a film in 2008, starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, which was hugely successful and which resulted in a Oscar for Kate Winslet. The film is really well made and the performances from Winslet, Fiennes and David Kross (who plays the young Michael) are exceptional.

So, in this case, I did things the other way around; I watched the film before I read the book. I know many people do not like doing that, but I don't really mind doing things in the wrong order. Sometimes, I even prefer it (as in the case of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, where I am sure that had I read the book before watching the film, I wouldn't have enjoyed the book as much as I did). The Reader was somewhere in the middle and by that I mean that it didn't really make much difference that I watched the film first, because the book was so easy to read. The story was rather short and very well written, but the translation was also one of the best translations I have ever read. It felt to me as if the book had actually been written in English.

In this book, we follow the story of Michael, a young boy who meets an older woman named Hanna and embarks on a love affair with her, despite their large difference in age. The story is split into three parts; in the first, we learn about the actual affair at the time it is happening; in the second, Michael is at university and is witnessing Hanna's trial firsthand; and the third is set many, many years later, but I'm not going to tell you what it's about, just in case you haven't read the book or seen the film, but are planning to.

Excellent portrayal of characters, lovely descriptions of places and circumstances. You can understand the motives between each person's decisions and, though they might seem a little extreme, you can see there is some amount of logic behind them. The Reader is a very sad story in general, but it is definitely one worth reading.

Rating: 8/10

Berhard Schlink is a German jurist and writer. He became a judge at the Constitutional Court of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1988 and has been a professor of public law and the philosophy of law at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany since January 2006. His second book, The Reader, a partly autobiographical novel, has been translated into 39 languages and was the first German book to reach the number one position in the New York Times bestseller list.
Other books include:

Read for the: 100 Books In A Year Challenge 2011

1 comment:

  1. 2008 really? Gosh, it seems like it was just a few months ago. I watched the film when it came out on DVD and while it was worth watching, I don't think I could face the book, despite your positive review/rating. I'm not entirely sure why :-


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