Wednesday, 26 January 2011
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Reader is the story of Michael Berg. The main protagonist who looks back at a relationship he had at 15 years old with an older woman; Hanna Schmitz. The affair took place over a Summer and ended as abruptly as it began when Hanna disappears leaving no forwarding address.
Deeply effected by this in the years following, Michael, now a law student, comes into contact with Hanna in a unexpected way when he follows her trial for atrocities she committed during the Second World War.
The prose in The Reader is quite sparse, relatively simple and very easy to read. The novel almost hides the fact that the story and themes are far heavier than the prose style and the short length suggests.
The novel looks at Nazi guilt within later generations. How would it feel if your parents, grandparents were there and yet did nothing? Or, even worse, participated in the terrible acts? It is a question that Michael and his fellow students spend a lot of time thinking about. Michael also has to come to terms with the fact that, as in the case of Hanna, not all war criminals are born evil, yet they are evil when they 'go along with it'. This is brought forth with frightening clarity when Hanna questions her judge with 'what would YOU have done?'
I loved the main themes of the book and found them extremely thought provoking and I think this would make a brilliant book club read. However what let the novel down slightly were the actual characters. At just over 200 pages the novel has to fit in huge themes and quite a lot of sex so unfortunately the characters suffered slightly because of this. I never really understood Hanna, she didn't come alive even when seen through Michael's eyes and she was more of an instrument to make a point rather than a three dimensional person with a voice.
The central point of the story is that there are some crimes that are so horrific that a person simply cannot atone for them. This is a powerful message and it really struck a cord with me.
I have a few reservations about The Reader overall, it's certainly not a book I am going to forget in a hurry.
Posted by Jess