Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

My PhD critical paper

The biggest thank-you is due to Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, who supervised this PhD. I never had cause to doubt my initial instincts as Norma proved to be the best mentor I could ever have wished for.

I would also like to acknowledge the generous studentship that I was fortunate to be awarded by Kingston University, without which postgraduate study of this nature would have remained firmly beyond reach - as it is - and becomes even more so - for countless others who would relish this hard, yet rewarding journey of growth.
Thanks are due to my brothers and sisters, particularly my older brother, Sean.

Behind this PhD candidate was a fellowship of brilliant friends, whose kind and wise words, often amounting to no more than 'keep going' encouraged me in the low moments. And, of course, to the spirit of Mary Burns (1822-1863) - no mere mistress.

No endeavour is the work of an individual.

Revolution, Rom…

Midwinter Break - Bernard McLaverty

The only other book that I've read of Bernard MacLaverty was the sublime Grace Notes, published in 1997, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize of the same year. That prize was awarded to an author of another similar hiatus recently broken, Arundhati Roy, of the widely acclaimed The God of Small Things. I was certain, when buying the kindle version of Midwinter Break, that MacLaverty's first book in seventeen years (Cal, 2001, was his most recent) had made both the Booker Longlist and Shortlist - but having just double-checked - am disappointed and confused to find it had made neither. MacLaverty's prose style feels Yatesian, after the late Richard Yates, US author of Revolutionary Road, and TheEaster Parade
Midwinter Break, set in Amsterdam, is written in the same deliciously clear and poignant prose that so widely marked out Grace Notes. The husby and I have not long returned from a late summer break in that same fabulous city. With the visit to the Rijksmuseum still fre…