A REVIEW OF SCHLINK'S THE READER (1995)
Any novel that requires translation can be a bit sketchy, but Carol Brown Janeway has done a masterful job of translating Bernhard Schlink's claim-to-fame The Reader (Vintage, 1995). The aforementioned book centers on a fifteen-year-old boy who begins a romantic relationship with an eccentric woman twice his age. As the relationship progresses, the boy, who also serves as the narrator, gains insight into the whimsical quirks of the woman he calls his own. During the couple's tug-of-war relationship, Hanna (the woman) disappears and doesn't surface until a pivotal moment in the boy's life. Furthermore, after the lengthy absence, he ascertains that she's on trial for multiple heinous crimes.
Interestingly enough, the full-length's process of description is all backwards in my opinion. Even though the book is well written and drops useful descriptors every few steps, I wanted to see less depiction of the narrator's surroundings (buildings, foliage, et al) and more illustration of the couple engaging in sex. Now, as far as the latter is concerned, the act of sex would not have become so stale if the boy didn't refer to it as "making love" approximately 1,000 times in the course of The Reader's life.
However, the first part of Schlink's piece is riveting; I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about Hanna, the boy, and the different facets of their relationship. It is only when Hanna disappears that my interest began to fade, but her reappearance subsequently rejuvenated my attention span. Furthermore, the dialogue and characterization found within is completely believable. The boy sounds like he's fifteen when he becomes haughty at the thought of bedding a woman twice his age. Hanna's voluntary, emotional distance – though explicated later on – is convincing. Humor is thankfully laced throughout the novel's lifespan, as well. It's not as if any parts of the book are soporific, but The Reader definitely isn't a work that demands attention from start to finish. You probably won't be biting your nails in anticipation of the bleak ending, and I'm sure the author knew that. So, the aforesaid is worth a read, but I don't consider it one of my favorite books. I doubt you will consider it one of yours either.
about the author
Jason Jordan has performed at the Old
Louisville Coffeehouse and was the winner of Decomposition Magazine's first
creative writing contest in July 2004 with his piece,
UNTITLED. His work has recently
appeared in The Giles Corey Press and