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Reading The Reader
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
Member Name: katyj10
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
Advantages: Interesting story
Disadvantages: Bit short
This is a review of the 1997 book "The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink, which I read aware that it had been made into a film in 2008 with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, this is a book review only. I have tried to write the review in a way that does not reveal the story line too much as I realise you may want to read it yourselves!
A bit about the story
The book, set in Germany, begins with 15 year old Michael who has an unfortunate incident - vomiting in public - and a woman (Hanna) helps to take care of him and takes him home after cleaning him up. Michael lays ill for six months then urged by his mother, takes some flowers to Hanna's flat to say thank you. This leads to a bizarre love affair between the thirty something Hanna and 15 year old Michael.
In part two of the book, both Hanna and Michael have moved on until a chance meeting brings their lives back together in one of the worst circumstances you can imagine.
At first I thought it was a bit like The Graduate, with an older woman seducing a younger man but the age difference and Michael's age made it more sordid and socially unacceptable. Michael has so much freedom, his parents don't even realise when he takes a cycling holiday with Hannah.
I really did wonder how did this book ever become a film? It is just 200 and a few pages with the words really spaced out. I think (although I haven't watched it) they must have done some padding on the film to make it last enough time! The three sections in the book really help to convey the time passing and the effect that Hanna has on Michael's life and although you don't realise it, vice versa.
Although Michael loves spending time at the beginning with Hanna, you realise she is not doing him any favours as the book progresses he is obsessed with Hanna and the thought of her helps to ruin any future successful relationships he may have.
Deeper issues (*spoiler)
The second part of the book is set 15 years after the second world war and the country is still hurting from all the wrongs that were done in the Concentration Camps and as Michael enters a career in Law he is assigned the role of sitting in the court whilst some women ex-SS Guards are tried for war crimes. He is staggered on day one to find out that his tram conductor ex lover, Hanna is being tried for being a guard in one of the camps and is taking the blame for the deaths of many women who were under her care. He feels torn between his feelings for Hanna and for the poor prisoners who suffered in the camps.
"The Reader" sounds like a simplistic title but it refers to one of Michael and Hanna's rituals they had in their secret meetings. Hanna asks Michael to read to her and enjoys hearing the classics being read to her. It takes Michael many years to get to the reason why she loves being read to.
Whilst I enjoyed reading this book it felt really short and the whole time I was struggling with the ages of Michael and Hanna to believe it could be a real love story. I'm not sure if I want to watch the film or not but I suppose I will when it is aired on TV. Some really difficult issues are covered in the book which are all based on true facts so it can be upsetting to read and think about the awful and cruel time the prisoners in the Camps suffered. I don't think Hanna was really evil but I think she was able to distance herself away from what was really happening so she could do her job guarding the prisoners. I am sure many people will enjoy reading "The Reader" but for me it was mediocre and needed far more content to be enjoyed.
PS. I have since seen the film and am impressed how true it stays to the book, I think I liked the film better than the book actually.
Summary: Good enough read