The Reader by Bernard Schlink

I picked this up on a whim at the library I work at. We have a lot of books that you can just take, rather than checking out, and you can keep them, and this was part of that collection and I’m really glad I picked this up!

I went into this knowing nothing about it and in a way I wish I’d known a little more. All I knew was that it is a postwar novel and the film won Kate Winslet an Oscar, but other than that I had no idea.

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

This novel is a mere 216 pages long and I read it pretty much in one sitting because it was truly addicting; I just needed to know what was going on and what was going to happen to these characters. The book is split into three parts and, I have to admit, I found the first part a little bit uncomfortable to read at points because of the sexual relationship between the two characters having such a large age gap between them. It wasn’t that anything was too graphically described or anything, it was more that as a reader, you are reminded constantly of the age gap because Hanna always calls Michael “kid”. It did make for an interesting read however but the war part of the novel didn’t come into the story until the second part.

I really liked the reality of this novel. Despite the strangeness of the relationship, it was a relationship none the less, and I felt that primarily that is what the story is about, but undoubtedly the backdrop and consequences of post-war Germany are evident throughout these last two parts.

Overall this book felt like a true account of someone’s life and for that, coming from a fiction book, I can only commend Bernard Schlink. The characters were distant, as they often are in biographical texts, but I didn’t mind that. I can completely understand why this is often seen as almost a modern classic and I would be interested in looking into other works by Schlink.

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