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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

By Brian Prisco | Books | May 18, 2009 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | May 18, 2009 |

I was interested in reading this recommendation by the Kamikaze Feminist, because it was literally the only book he read for the Cannonball Read. A book so good, it actually made him give up all other books. I would have liked to find out that he only read The Reader, 100 times, in the course of a year. That he got the entire text tattooed over his body, that he had started reading to prisoners in his spare time, that he started scoping out Neo-Facist rallies in the hope of inspiring a coming-of-age love story with a Nazi. Well, maybe that’d be a little too far. So I cracked the slim novel with some eager hope.


It’s a very sparse novel, and I don’t mean in that tight Hemingway prose, but rather that Schlink writes in tiny chapters, reminiscent of James Patterson, where he focuses on one single event, one single memory and juices all he can out of it. I think I was sort of swept up by anti-hype, that it had been lauded as a film, and so I was unable to appreciate it for the literature. It’s exactly the kind of romance that I typically run screaming from, so I was not really expecting much from the novel.

That’s not to say it was bad or unpleasant. It’s just that it was breezier than I expected, especially considering the topics it deals with. A young boy comes of age in the arms of a mysterious older women, who turns out to be a concentration camp guard brought to trial. It felt like someone paging through a journal kept, and presenting it in the same style as it was on the page. The teen sexual awakening felt almost juvenile, as if he were unable to put into words all the emotions and feelings that were suddenly borne in him. Later, during the trial, it’s full of all the blustering and postulating of college years. That sort of ponderous know-it-all self-righteousness.

All in all, the novel didn’t capture me as hard as I thought it might. The closest comparison I can make is to my earlier foray into Ian McEwen. While I liked the book, it didn’t change my life, but it didn’t feel like a wasted effort either.

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