Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I admit that the premise for this book made me a little queasy. I'm no prude, but as the mother of two sons, I didn't know if I'd like reading about a relationship between a 15-year old boy and a 30-something year old woman. However, I wanted to see the movie and I always like to read the book first. So, I read it, and I'm so glad I did. It's one of those books that hooked me from the first and forced me to keep reading. My only regret is that this wasn't a book group book. I really would have liked to be able to discuss this book with others. There's so much about the book that lends itself to discussion. Of course, above everything else there is the moral quandary of this relationship between Michael and Hannah. The story is told completely from Michael's point of view. I found myself wanting to hear more from Hannah. I wanted her to explain herself and her actions. I know the author did all of this for a reason, but I really wanted to try and understand her. She made such a huge impact on Michael's entire life. She colored every relationship he had from that point on.

The reader pretty much knows from the beginning that she has a secret. She doesn't want to share anything with Michael. He's young and in love and wants to know everything about her. She ignores most of his questions and never really opens up to him. In fact, he doesn't even know her name until they had already slept together numerous times. Of course, later the reader understand more about why she doesn't share much about her past. For Michael, the romance is extremely intense and ends abruptly. Hannah simply leaves and never contacts him again. By chance, Michael ends up finding out what has happened to Hannah through a seminar class he's taking in college.

The title of the book comes from the fact that eventually their afternoon trysts included him reading aloud to her. In the beginning, he read to her whatever he was reading at the time. She seemed to crave this. She was always very attentive and perceptive. She would make observations and ask lots of questions. This continued throughout their relationship.

I really don't want to say too much more about the plot. I will just say that I really enjoyed this book, and it is definitely one that will make you think about it long after you turn that last page. The book really left me with more questions than answers. Again, I wanted to know more about Hannah and why she made the decisions she did. The reader is led to believe that one thing may have lead her to some of her decisions. But, it doesn't explain everything. Can you ever really fully know a person if they aren't willing to open themselves up to you? Are people who do evil things evil themselves? Does following orders relieve someone of personal responsibility?

If you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it. It's not a happy, feel good kind of book. It's a book that really stops you in your tracks and forces you to think about difficult philosophical questions. I'm anxious to see the movie now.

7 comments:

Nymeth said...

I've heard a lot about this book and the movie, but I didn't actually know what the story was about. It's a difficult topic, but you really make me want to read it.

Lisa said...

nymeth, I usually find that books that deal with difficult topics turn out to be favorites for me. I'm not sure why that is, except that maybe they really force me to think.

JoAnn said...

I had very mixed emotions when I read this almost 10 years ago and have often thought it deserves another reading. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the movie.

Lisa said...

Joann, It definitely is a book that will stir the emotions.

Lisa said...

I haven't read much about the book or the movie, but your review convinced me to add it to my library list. Thanks.

Tara said...

I cannot speak about the book but my husband and I thought the film was excellent. That being said, I'm still not sure if I want to read the novel! I think it would be interested to know more of the character's inner struggles that don't translate to film.

Lisa said...

Lisa, I hope you enjoy it.

Tara, the book definitely gives you a glimpse into Micheal's inner struggles. But, you don't get to know what Hannah is thinking, at all. I'd really like to hear how she justifies things to herself.