Our latest choice was ‘The Reader’ published by Bernard Schlink in 1997 which has sold millions of copies worldwide.
The story is set in Germany in 1958. Michael, a 15-year-old schoolboy, embarks on a forbidden affair with a 36-year-old train conductor named Hanna. They hide it. They pretend nothing is happening. What else are they hiding? Years after their affair, their paths collide in a most unexpected way. Hanna and Michael are both in court at the war trials, the result of which will be life changing for both.
Schlink describes his work saying ‘It is definitely not a book about the Holocaust. It is a book about how the second generation attempted to come to terms with the Holocaust and the role in it played by their fathers’ generation.’
How could you love someone knowing that they played a part in such cruelty? Do you say they did what they had to to survive? Do you say they were ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control? Do you say nothing? Michael must come to terms with Hanna’s past to have a future, but this generational divide is a difficult path to traverse.
There are many sub themes crisscrossing within the text, choosing where to lend your focus can be a challenge for the reader. During our discussion, it was clear to see we each battled with a different focus- Hanna’s manipulation of Michael; a person’s culpability as a Nazi guard; illiteracy.
Oftentimes a person dealing with illiteracy can mask their problems, they become adept at hiding this issue. The rely on routine and order. Adhering strictly to such routines can help protect your dignity. Hanna craved order.
Schlink’s style is clinical. His parents studied theology and he himself became a law professor and a judge in 1987. One of his favourite professors at university was discovered to have written an anti-Semitic book in the 30s.
You might well wish for Schlink’s writing to reveal more emotional wealth. It has been criticised for its lack of clear direction, for its circumnavigation of the heinous crimes perpetrated by many so-called ordinary German citizens in the concentration camps. Having said that, I found the text’s approach thought-provoking. It is not typical of its genre. (Did you know? The film version of the novel was released in 2008. Kate Winslet won the Oscar for Best Actress for her depiction of Hanna.)
Our next read is Gillian Flynn’s ‘Sharp Objects’.
You may recognise Flynn’s name as author of ‘Gone Girl’. The film adaptation released in 2014 was a hit with both cinema-goers and critics alike. ‘Sharp Objects’ is the 2006 debut novel by the American writer. Camille Preaker is a reporter for a Chicago newspaper who must return to her small hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. Being on home ground should be an advantage for this young reporter. Dark and intense, this story is full of disturbing twists. For older readers only.
HBO (Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies) has lined up an 8 part adaptation of the novel, starring Amy Adams, and The Telegraph claims it is ‘the most anticipated TV drama of the summer’.
Enjoy and happy reading/watching! Pop into Books@One, pick up your own must-read and share your thoughts.
The Reader* is now sold out but Sharp Objects is back in stock!
*We'd be delighted to order you a copy if you get in touch by email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +353 (0)98 668856