The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does - Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.
I found this novel quite odd. It begins as a tale of a boy's coming of age and sexual awakening and then slowly evolves into a far more philosophical endeavour that ponders ethics, guilt and moral responsibility in relation to the atrocities of the Holocaust. It almost felt like two completely different works.
The characters, I felt, were a bit thinly weaved. I felt very little sympathy for anyone, and I could barely relate to any of them. I also found Michael and Hanna's relationship to be quite disgraceful, and couldn't open myself up to appreciate it as a proper loving relationship. Our narrator describes it beautifully, never seeing himself as a victim of paedophilia, and this blatantly affects him later on in the novel.
The book dives headfirst into the depths of human brutality. It poses some quite melancholy questions on human nature, and also makes me wonder what Schlink was trying to convey through the novel. I can't really come to a conclusion on this one, but at the same time I'm wondering whether I'm supposed to. Perhaps the book is more concerned with the process involved in reaching a conclusion. I can't decide. However, I did like that the book didn't focus on good or evil, but rather the middle grey area in between those extremes that holds things such as morals and ethics.
I'm not sure I'd recommend this generally, but I'm definitely going to give it another try at some point and see if I can pick up anything I've missed such as symbols or recurring themes. It seems like a good novel to closely study, and I feel I may have missed a good few hidden secrets.
63 / 66 books. 95% done!