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Kell

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

How would you rate this book? (Dont forget to say why in the thread!)  

2 members have voted

  1. 1. How would you rate this book? (Dont forget to say why in the thread!)

    • 5/5 - Top-notch reading!
    • 4/5 - Excellent
    • 3/5 - Pretty good
    • 2/5 - OK, but nothing to write home about
    • 1/5 - Dull as ditchwater
    • 0/5 - Utter dross!
      0


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I know one of the questions that is coming up is to do with the style in part one and how it relates to the rest of the novel. I thought it would be interesting to examine the structure of the novel, before considering the style question.

 

Looking at the overall structure, it struck me that there is a degree of symmetry. The first 3 chapters and the last 2 chapters, in my view, serve as bookends. Considering the first 3 chapters we have 'Meeting Hannah', followed by a description of her old building and comparison with the replacement followed by a dream and finally a formal visit. Looking at the last 2 chapters a similar structure can be detected: firstly a dream, followed by a description of the daughter's building, then the formal visit and finally 'Farewell Hannah'. It is instructive to compare these two segments, something I'll return to (:lol:)

 

Between these 2 segments we have the affair, the trial and the aftermath of the trial/affair. In my view the style and and tone are shaped by this structure, but will wait till the question is posed before posting further.

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Well, I had high hopes for the book when I read the synopsis but I could only bring myself to give this 1/5. I would have preferred to give it 0/5 but remembered that there were a few ickle bits that I actually didn't mind too much.

 

I cannot even tell you why I don't like it but it just didn't grip me - under normal circumstances I would have not read this to the end but felt I should give it a try, it may get better in the end.

 

When it came to the "big revelation", the deeper secret and it turned out to be the illiteracy, all I could think was "is that it?" Of course, for someone being impaired by not being able to read and write it is a very big deal, but I had hopes for something more sinister I suppose :lol:

 

I could not warm to any of the characters as much as I tried. In the beginning I think Hannah was the one I could have liked best but when she hit Michael I went totally off her.

 

Michael is a character I disliked from the beginning - I found him to be selfish and weak. Most of the time it appeared to me that he was happy to have Hanna and their relationship as a scapegoat to blame for everything that had happened to him/with his life. If a woman was not good enough for him it was because of Hannah and her memories. Everything was because something reminded him of Hannah....

 

One thing I did like in the book was the paragraph (I think in the first book?) when Michael questions that when we find out that something is not as we thought it was, all of a sudden the happiness we felt before is erased. I actually like that train of thought.

But yeah, that is all I took from the book to be worth reading.

 

Sorry - I wish I could have liked it better but in the end I found myself skimming the pages as I just wanted it to be over with :)

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I could not warm to any of the characters as much as I tried.

I didn't find any of the characters particularly warm or likeable either. Although I enjoyed the book a great deal, I wonder how I managed to enjoy it so much when I didn't really like any of the characters in it - I couldn't imagine myself being able to be friends with any of them had I met them in person.

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One thing I did like in the book was the paragraph (I think in the first book?) when Michael questions that when we find out that something is not as we thought it was, all of a sudden the happiness we felt before is erased. I actually like that train of thought.

But yeah, that is all I took from the book to be worth reading.

 

 

Yes that's in Part1 Chapter 9 - its the start of the philosophy. Which brings me neatly to my view on the style. The first few chapters are informal - the informal form of address (du) being used in the main, with a fair sprinkling of colloquial language. From chapter 9 onwards the philosophy starts taking over, and the style becoming more formal. By the time we get to the trial the formal dominates ( I have seen this referred to hardboiled writing :lol:) . The third part brings back the more informal style.

 

Picking up on the philosophy, its stongly based on Kant - Micheal's father's set piece is a summary of Kant's view on morality. Micheal continues with that to the end of the book. As a sidenote that is Schlinks stance as well, his own philosopy being very much in the Kantian style.

 

As a lawyer Schlink has to adhere to certain style rules - simple sentences and no superflous words. He does here, but has an annoying habit of putting in some obtuse sentences, which to the translator's credit have been well translated. Whilst I found Micheal's questions interesting and thought provoking - Schlink has an annoying habit of prodding his readership towards certain answers, which I found myself disagreeing with. Did anyone else notice that- or is just me?

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I didn't find any of the characters particularly warm or likeable either. Although I enjoyed the book a great deal, I wonder how I managed to enjoy it so much when I didn't really like any of the characters in it - I couldn't imagine myself being able to be friends with any of them had I met them in person.

In my view Schlink uses the characters as props, with the exception of Hannah and Micheal. i'm still pondering what drives Micheal, but have an idea it is pride and power that drive Hannah.

 

Since the themes are intertwined I'll explain my view on the two dreams concerning buildings, the description of the buildings and the associated visits.

 

First the visits. Both are formal, the first to offer thanks, the second to seek atonement. The description of Hannah's old building is detailed and makes the building specific and singular. It is old, made of sandstone. The daughter's house is similarly old and made of sandstone but is more anonymous. I noticed also that Micheal only makes both visits due to someone else's decision - his mother for the first and Hannah for the second.

 

In the first dream the building turns up in all sorts of different and unlikely places. In the second dream the building is plausible but the people featured are out of place - Hannah is dead and Micheal is only visiting America.

 

Taking an overall view the first visit seems to be more personal ( a gift of flowers), whereas the second is more impersonal. It seems that Schlink is attempting to romanticize the past and debase the present. Micheal's longing for home is difficult to interpret - an odd and disturbing possibility is that he is equating home with Hannah's old building. Another feature of the meeting with the daughter I noticed is she mentions the caddy she had in the camp was stolen. Schlink writes that in such a way that the possibility arises that one of the other inmates stole the caddy, so perversely the tea caddy Micheal brings and the daughter retains, acts potentially as redress for an act of another inmate not a Nazi perpetrator

 

This is only my view - be interested what others think.

 

As a footnote the description of Hannah's old building sounds very similar to that of Fydor's building in the 'Gift' by Nabokov.

Edited by Maureen
merged

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Schlink has an annoying habit of prodding his readership towards certain answers, which I found myself disagreeing with. Did anyone else notice that- or is just me?

 

Yes, thinking about it - there was an instance when I thought this too. When were told that after hanna learned reading, she was in particular interested in anything regarding Concentration Camps, etc. I had the impression that we were steered into thinking that Hanna did not know what she was doing but in reading about it, she felt remorse.

At least that is the impression that I got from it and I wholeheartedly disagree - just because she couldn't read or write does not make he a dumb person. She knew what she was doing and I doubt she felt remorse - shame maybe, but not remorse.

 

And I also don't buy the "she chose the Reader's to make their last moments in the camp more bearable". I know that this is what Michael would like to think as he does not want to believe that she could have knowingly become a guard in the camp. But his thought is subtly repeated throughout the book so I guess Schlink wants us to feel the same way, have sympathy with Hanna.

Edited by KimmyS
incredibly bad grammar :)

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Yes, thinking about it - there was an instance when I thought this too. When were told that after hanna learned reading, she was in particular interested in anything regarding Concentration Camps, etc. I had the impression that we were steered into thinking that Hanna did not know what she was doing but in reading about it, she felt remorse.

At least that is the impression that I got from it and I wholeheartedly disagree - just because she couldn't read or write makes he a dumb person. She knew what she was doing and I doubt she felt remorse - shame maybe, but not remorse.

 

Thats the impression I got as well and it seems the conclusion Schlink wants us to draw. Like you I don't buy that.

And I also don't buy the "she chose the Reader's to make their last moments in the camp more bearable". I know that this is what Michael would like to think as he does not want to believe that she could have knowingly become a guard in the camp. But his thought is subtly repeated throughout the book so I guess Schlink wants us to feel the same way, have sympathy with Hanna.

 

As you say the message that Hannah was a victim of circumstances is subtly repeated in an attempt to make us feel sympathy for her. She chose to enlist in the SS, so she is a perpetrator. As such punishment is in order coupled with a need to understand, but understanding does not equal sympathy. We know so little about her, that understanding her is difficult. By making her a victim Schlink has confused and oversimplified in my opinion.

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As you say the message that Hannah was a victim of circumstances is subtly repeated in an attempt to make us feel sympathy for her.

 

Exactly - and I believe that I would have had more sympathy for her if she just held her hands up and said "yup, I did that knowingly".

 

I also think that Schlink tried to get more sympathy for her character when he described her in court at standing up for herself when she believed she was done an injust but agreeing to things she did do, no matter how bad. (Actually that is a very German thing to do, arguing the point when you feel you are in the right :D and I should know, I am German... so don't you start arguing with me :D)

 

We know so little about her, that understanding her is difficult. By making her a victim Schlink has confused and oversimplified in my opinion.

 

Definitely confused but I am not too sure about the simplifying...maybe more (dare I say it) political correct? He cannot be seen as someone who would get his readers to actually feel sympathy for a camp guard? So maybe he is trying to 'swing both ways' (steady now, I couldn't find a better choice of words to say what I mean...)

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What i meant about simplifying was that Schlink via Micheal seems to say everyone in the camps and even outside them felt a numbness to what was going on around them - they went along to get along. That flies in the face of evidence - see Primo Levi 'The Saved and the Drowned'.

 

He seems to make Hannah the spokesperson for the Nazi generation, which in my mind doesn't work. Micheals long lament about how inmates and guards etc became numb doesn't hold water either, especially when at the end he says im not sure, just ignore what I've said. Thats akin to saying to a trial jury after an outburst which could sway them, ignore it in not sure now. Hmm dmage done I think.

 

Hehe I wouldn't argue with you , just try and have a reasoned discussion....

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Yeah, I can totally see what you mean and I would agree with it

 

 

Hehe I wouldn't argue with you , just try and have a reasoned discussion....

Bless, you know I was only joking...right? :D

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Time for the next question from the back of the book (although I think this has been partially, if not fully, answered already by some folks!):

 

How would you describe the tone and style of Bernhard Schlink

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As ths one is already being answered, I'll post my own answer to this question just now.

How would you describe the tone and style of Bernhard Schlink

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As ths one is already being answered, I'll post my own answer to this question just now.

 

He seems to be, by turn, passionate and dispassionate, almost like Michael is feeling guilty about his feelings for Hanna and is trying to subdue them without belittling them. It can make for confusing reading at times, but not in a way that confuses the narrative

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I'm not too suer about this book - while it touches on so many different issues, however in my opinion the author touches on them so lightly that you only think about them in hindsight, or with further discussion. Just like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this book kept me turning the pages to find more... but unfortunately they did not deliver on the level of emotions...

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Time for another question from the back of the book:

The relationship between Hanna and Michael begins with an act of kindness on her part but we later learn of her involvement in the concentration camps. Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out she was a guard?

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Hannah did not engage my sympathy at any point. The 'act of kindness' on one level was that - she could have left him, but she didnt. It wasn't the what she did, but how she did it - brusque springs to mind- almost frogmarched him to courtyard, ordered him to fetch a bucket of water, cleaned the pavement, in astonishment gave him a hug, then frog marched him home!!

 

Also interesting to note, compare this with how she selected inmates as priviliged prisoners - young weak, able to read to her. Micheal young,weak, able to read to her - rather eerie echoes here I think.

 

The point about cleaning is symbolic of Hannahas attempt at washing off her shame of the past. Also hepatitis in German is Gelbsucht - yellow madness - link to yellow stars for Jews?

Edited by sirinrob

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The relationship between Hanna and Michael begins with an act of kindness on her part but we later learn of her involvement in the concentration camps. Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out she was a guard?

I think it could be taken in one of two ways

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Time for another question from the back of the book:

we later learn of her involvement in the concentration camps. Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out she was a guard?

 

See, this is where the book really started to get on my nerves - if in doubt, just make one of the main characters be part in one way or the other of the Nazi Regime...so much easier to dislike them immediately, or find excuses for why someone did what they did.

 

It did not matter to me what her past was, it would not change my sympathy or dislike for her. As I stated before I changed my mind about her the minute she lashed out at Michael. Whatever her reasons, I do not find violence acceptable.

 

I find Hanna quite a tragic figure

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I can see what both of you are are saying and I might have a been a tad harsh on Hannah, but she did chose to do what she did and the blame for the church incident is deflected to others as well. Also bear in mind the Nazi reime relied on grass root support to function - many ordinary Germans at the time would report others to maintain their own position.

Edited by sirinrob

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Not at all - I actually typed up my answer to this and the other questions a couple of weeks ago when I finished reading the book. :friends0:

 

I'm really enjoying getting other perspectives on this - it's very interesting. :D

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I've just finished The Reader and find the conversation going on here quite insightful and very interesting. This book is interesting. While I was reading it, I don't know that I ever felt "hooked" and certainly didn't find it an "easy pleasure", yet when I put it down, Michael and Hanna kept coming back to me and kept at me until I picked the book up again. Schlink's sparse and unemotional language gives me the impression of this being a biographical investigation, although quite likely, that was his intent.

 

An aspect of The Reader is both its strength and its weakness. Either Michael or Hanna are illustrated all that well. As a weakness, it prevents readers from connecting with the characters as well as they could. As a strength, it allows readers to see both Michael and Hanna as representatives for their respective generations. They are not simply individuals here. They are symbols of Germany's Nazi past as well as its post-war struggles to come to terms with their actions.

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I've just finished The Reader and find the conversation going on here quite insightful and very interesting. This book is interesting. While I was reading it, I don't know that I ever felt "hooked" and certainly didn't find it an "easy pleasure", yet when I put it down, Michael and Hanna kept coming back to me and kept at me until I picked the book up again. Schlink's sparse and unemotional language gives me the impression of this being a biographical investigation, although quite likely, that was his intent.

 

An aspect of The Reader is both its strength and its weakness. Either Michael or Hanna are illustrated all that well. As a weakness, it prevents readers from connecting with the characters as well as they could. As a strength, it allows readers to see both Michael and Hanna as representatives for their respective generations. They are not simply individuals here. They are symbols of Germany's Nazi past as well as its post-war struggles to come to terms with their actions.

Interesting on the biographical investigation, imo Schlink has attempted for Micheal a 'BildungsRoman', but rather failed.

 

From what i've read arond, the lack of knowledge about Micheal or Hannah is deliberate, forcing focus on the issues. That said the issues are presented in a veiled way, critics I've read say the same, its a morass at times.

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Interesting on the biographical investigation, imo Schlink has attempted for Micheal a 'BildungsRoman', but rather failed.

 

From what i've read arond, the lack of knowledge about Micheal or Hannah is deliberate, forcing focus on the issues. That said the issues are presented in a veiled way, critics I've read say the same, its a morass at times.

 

I think your maybe right sirinrob ....the term "bildungsroman" would never of entered my mind :eek2: ...but yes, quite likely Schilnk was attempting a-coming-of-age novel.

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Time for another question from the back of the book:

Michael suggests reasons why Hanna became a guard and for her selection of girls to read to her. How convincing are his arguments? How can we explain why ordinary people commit atrocities without resorting to calling the monsters?

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Been waiting for this question as its a toughie. inital thoughts are Micheal's argument she fell into the SS (gravity is a wonderful force :D I dont buy - she chose to enlist- we dont know under circumstances exactly. On the face it her choosing the girls to read to her was a humane act, but in my view was whitewash as she swore them to secrecy why she selected them and she knew they would be sent to Auschwitz. Such 'priviliged' inmates were part of the way the Lagers operated - they were known as Kapos and served in alot of cases as minor functionaries like distributing food (their privilge being extra food) or keeping new inmates in their place.

 

The second part i'm going away to have a further think about as its tough to answer :D

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