The Reader by Bernhard Schlink was picked by my book club. I was excited since this book was already on my radar. I won’t be doing a normal review, but instead just giving you a few thoughts because it’s been so long between when I actually read the book and right now typing up this post.
A quick sketch of the plot: It’s set sometime in the 1960s in Germany. Michael Berg meets Hanna when he’s 15 and she’s 40. They start a sexual relationship that goes on for a while, until one day Hanna just disappears. Their relationship was very sexual, and Hanna had Michael read stories to her. When Michael next sees Hanna, he’s a young law student and Hanna is on trial for Nazi war crimes.
There’s not a whole lot of plot in this book; it’s really a character driven novel. I was worried that I wouldn’t like the 15-year-old with a 30-year-old, but it wasn’t icky, and obviously no one would condone it, but it just *was*. A friend (hi, Becky!) pointed out that the author didn’t *have* to use a 15-year-old boy. He could have just as easily been 17 or 18, making it far less objectionable, and the relationship would have still meant just as much to Michael.
I really liked this book. I thought Hanna and Michael had an interesting dynamic that lent itself to a book club discussion. I thought the story was beautiful and tragic, though I don’t think the story was romanticized at all. If anything, the narrator was unemotional, and merely told the story. No sentimentality leaked in, so it was an easy book to stay unattached to. I know that seems counter-intuitive to a good book, but I really think it works here.
One thing that frustrated me in the book club discussion was when I asked whether people thought the story was happy or sad or neither. I asked this question because of the following passage:
For the last few years I’ve left our story alone. I’ve made peace with it. And it came back, detail by detail and in such a fully rounded fashion, with its own direction and its own senses of completion, that it no longer makes me sad. What a sad story, I thought for so long. Not that I now think it was happy. But I think it is true and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatsoever.
So I ask people whether they thought the story was happy or sad or neither, and this one member says it was sad. And I asked her why, even though the narrator is telling us it’s really *not* a sad story. And she has no reason, just that she thinks it’s a sad story. I know I’m uptight, but is it really unreasonable to ask people to back their opinions and feelings up with actual facts and passages from the book??
All that to say, I loved The Reader.
Rating: 90 out of 100
Book source: I mooched this book from BookMooch.
You can thank the FTC for this disclosure!