The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
2008 is continuing to be a bumper year for reading. I have just finished Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, and the thoughts it has stirred up have only just begun. I came across this book for the first time about ten years ago, when it was first published/translated. I never got past page one. Why, I do not know. It may have had much to do with the fact that my head was mashed at the time. I think I had then been attracted to the title because it was some vague nod to a post-modernist notion of reading! I began reading it at home in London over the weekend - wanted, at first, to hurry up the treenage boy and mature 36 year old woman in relationship 'phase' and set onto the bigger story. Then I went down to Devon a couple of days ago and continued until finishing it on the platform of Newton Abbot train station.It is a remarkable novel. In one sentence he asks 'to understand or to condemn'? Because one can only cancel the other out. It is not only a story of the generation treying to deal with the shame of its parents' actions or silences during the reign of the Third Reich, it is also about shame more generally, toix shame, that cripples the sufferer this way and that - shame of being discovered - as a failure, as secretly abnormal. And the protagonist's father and their relationship highlighted an important revelation with that of my own Dad. Michael, the main protagonist and narrator, has a distant relationship with his philosopher dad who, tellingly, specialises in Hegel, Kant, Nietszche and Spinoza. Morals and dialectics. Ethics and history. And, of course, the Kantian categorical imperative plays a star role when, in the courtroom, Hanna asks the judge, 'what would you have done in the same situation?' to which the Judge can offer no reply. Hanna, it transpires, cannot read or write, and because of this she makes a series of decisions that lead to her taking a job at a concentration camp. But it is when Michael talks to his father, with whom he needs to make an appointment, that brings up the theme of what is appropriate and what is not. His only conversation with his Dad centres on what would be an appropriate way of interfering with Hanna's trial and telling them that he knows she is illiterate. When I initially wrote this post for the blog I was sat in a seafront hotel in Torquay, in the bar, and in the background was playing the theme tune to Schindler's List! By the way, the protagonist's mother hardly gets a mention.