Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Reader


The Reader - Bernhard Schlink

The Reader was chosen as the Bloggers' Book Club book for February. So here's my review:

I was very disappointed with this book, after all it had such great reviews and recommendations.

I enjoyed the first three chapters, the prose was simple but it created very vivid pictures as Michael Berg relates the story of his illness and first meetings with Hanna. It was downhill all the way after that!

The style of the book changes in second part where it becomes a much more philosophical read, maybe reflecting Michael's move from childhood to an adult in the second part. We see Hanna being tried for war crimes, Michael observing the trial and eventually the move towards Hanna's release. The theme of collective guilt over the Holocaust and how the different generations in Germany deal with it is covered by Michael.

For me the main reason I didn't like the book was, I couldn’t feel any empathy whatsoever with either of the two main characters. From what we learn about them, I felt they were cold, unemotional, selfish and detached. Michael, for example hardly mentions his mother, his wife and his daughter, the other women in his life.

The novel raises questions but I never felt there were any answers. Well to be honest, how can there be any answers to such a horrendous theme as the Holocaust, national and individual guilt. However there were other questions which remained unanswered and these were in the author’s power to resolve, but for some reason he didn’t. Hanna’s so called secret wasn’t difficult to guess right from their early meetings. However for Hanna’s final action, no answer was given or even hinted at.

The book evoked no real emotion from me other than frustration. It really should have done, given the fact that it was dealing with horrific war crimes. No tears, no sadness, no joy, no smiles. I kept waiting for answers which never materialised. I also felt I didn’t learn anything from this book which I feel is such a waste. 

10 comments:

  1. Yours isn't the first review like this I've read, which is why I didn't read this book!

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  2. Well I won't waste time on this one. Right now I am enjoying DOWNTON ABBY on Netflix. Have you seen it?

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  3. Hi Annie- Yes I've seen Downton Abbey TWICE now! I'm sure it was on one of the lists of recommended viewing I sent you. They've started filming the second series of 8 episodes set during World War 1. They now run trips to the location at Highclere Castle! It's been so successful for ITV hopefully they'll continue producing really great drama.

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  4. I don' think I read this book all the way through. I watched the movie instead, and my opinion of the movie was very similar to your review on the book. You did a great job of reviewing the book by the way! I saw this on goodreads and wanted to tell you how much I liked your review.

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  5. A pity - I was under the impression that it was quite a good book. But sometimes there are books like that which leave you feeling almost cheated at having wasted your time reading them.

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  6. A great review Winifred. I feel exactly the same way as you do. I felt nothing for either of the characters. To be honest I was glad when I finished the book.

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  7. I never heard of this book, but that is not surprising because it is not a genre I would be reading anyway. However, I think your review was good, and if I ever see this book for sell I will run to the nearest exit.

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  8. Brenda & MagnumLady - many thanks for your kind comments about my review. I find it quite hard writing reviews without giving too much away about the story which then spoils it for others.

    Loree - some people must have liked the book. I read some good reviews and they made it into a film. Just goes to show everybody's different! Luckily the book didn't take that long to read and I kept going thinking it would get better because the first three chapters were quite good.

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  9. I guess for once the movie was better than the book which is rare.

    But playing devils advocate I have two questions...

    1. With the theme being what is was should the characters be anything but "...cold, unemotional, selfish and detached" at least for some period of their lives?

    2. Some say that's the mark of a good writer to leave one with questions unanswered? (I too would have been frustrated don't get me wrong!)

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  10. Hi Brown Muffin-
    Yes the topic was awful. The characters however were too detached I felt and it didn't ring true. The lad was besotted with Hannah for a while yet when he saw her on trial he said he felt nothing.

    I quite like some mystery and things unanswered so you can make up your own mind about some aspects of a book or film. This book just left you in limbo about too many things.

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