Book Review // The Reader

The Reader^- Bernard Schlink

Back when Kate Winslet was nominated for an Oscar (which she later won) for her role in this film, I bought the book before watching the film. Fun fact for you: In 2008, she received two Best Actress nominations at the BAFTAs for roles in films adapted from books- one for The Reader and one for Revolutionary RoadShe won for her role as Hanna Schmidt in the adaptation of the former. Anyway, irrelevant facts aside, I recently decided to re-read and review all the books that I bought in my reading phase of 2008 and this, along with Perfume, was one of the first I reached for. 

The Reader follows Michael, a 15 year old boy who finds himself in the company of Hanna Schmidt when he is suddenly taken ill outside her home. Once recovered, Michael's mother encourages him to visit Hanna to thank her for the help. So begins a friendship that blossoms into a relationship based on sexual intimacy and reading to the much older woman who has expertly seduced the naive schoolboy. Set during the late 1950s, Michael is led on a journey through an unbalanced relationship while dealing with the issues of male puberty. When Hanna disappears without a trace, he finds it difficult to move forward with his life until he suddenly, coincidentally, encounters her again many years later in the most shocking of ways. 

Shlink's writing style is very easy to read. It's functional and free from unnecessarily flowery language, although still describes certain scenes in beautiful detail. In a first-person narrative, the reader is welcomed into Michael's thoughts as he battles with his conflicting feelings and, with this, Sclink creates a powerful sense of empathy.
However, I found it very difficult to get a real sense on the passing of time throughout the novel. World War II features very heavily so I often became confused with exactly when the story was taking place. In fact, I only know it's set in the late 50s because I ended up Googling it. This lack of explanation around the setting made it quite difficult for me to follow and, now that I know it's set later than my initial thoughts, I'm even more confused with why Hanna left! I think I'll need to re-read it.

This is almost rectified with the conclusion. One of the most important features of a novel for me- if not the most important feature- is how it ends. The ending of a book (and a film, come to think of it) can make or break it for me. In the case of The Reader, it ends so poignantly and beautifully that it brought me to tears. 

Although the writing was fantastic, and it was certainly redeemed by such an emotional conclusion, the confusing setting limits the impact The Reader had on me and therefore I rate it five out of ten.

With its themes of young boys being seduced by older women, The Reader is similar in some ways to Tampa although the latter is not quite as accomplished!

Buy The Reader here

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