The Reader, Bernard Schlink, Pantheon, 1997, 218 pp
Rarely does a book just ram into my heart and mind like The Reader did and then leave me feeling deeply satisfied with the whole experience. I've yet to see the movie but suspect it will not disappoint.
Anyone who has seen the movie (probably more people than have read the book) will know the whole plot but I don't want to give it away. Easily half of the greatness of the book is the way the plot is revealed and I for one, did not see any of it coming. Each revelation caused me to catch my breath and marvel.
The theme of guilt is strong and tough and hit me where I live because of my ancestry (German) and religious upbringing (Lutheran). Schlink creates a stew of desire, sin and lost dreams but the broth is guilt: personal, familial, societal and judicial. If that sounds daunting and heavy, it is; but the writing is so perfect and seems to soothe the reader, seems to indicate that it will be alright in the end. Until the end, when nothing is right.
Michael Berg, a teen just recovering from a long illness, with hormones raging and longing for a closeness with his father that he will never have, tells the story from his viewpoint. He is a typical European postwar individual, growing up in a world with few ideals.
Hannah is a mature woman with a hard, cynical veneer that barely hides all manner of conflicts as mysterious to Michael as they are to herself. Once they begin a relationship, they are locked together by forces that neither understand. In an admirable economy of words, Schlink takes us through the years, the twists and turns that seem to ruin Michael's life, until we see that the ruin is mankind's.
(This book is on the shelf in paperback at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)