Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Reader

by Bernhard Schlink

This is a really simply and elegantly written book, almost poetic.

My chief complaint is that the narrator asks too many questions. I realize he had to process several moral dilemmas in his life, but he just asked too many questions; a metaphor every once in a while would have been nice. All those questions make the narrator sound juvenile, which makes sense considering his relationship with Hanna started when he was only 15 years old, but he is telling his story as an adult, not as the 15 year old. Plus the excessive questions continue as he recounts later events in his life.

I also found the beginning of Michael and Hanna's relationship ridiculous. Who becomes that obsessed after only one encounter? And then falls so all-consumingly in love after sleeping together so suddenly? But then again, Michael is 15 and Hanna is lonely with nothing to lose. So why not? (The question thing, it's catching.)

But I think this is a compelling story and an easy read. Schlink poses poignant moments effortlessly. I especially loved this observation:
"The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive."
Beautiful. That one sentence captures so much of what the book is about.

Once you get past all the cougar sex, the book is really excellent (not that the sex isn't excellent, but it's really only a small part of what the book is about). When the trial begins is when the story really gets going, and it is great. It is well crafted and enthralling. Hanna becomes completely sympathetic despite her past or her short-comings. Michael is more complex and I haven't settled how I feel about him.

This is one of those books that is over too soon. It's a captivating story, beautifully written, and well worth your attention.

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