We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Sunday, 2 September 2012

#7 Book 105 - The Reader

When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. It started in the autumn and lasted till the spring. 

Title: The Reader

Author: Bernhardt Schlink

Publisher: Phoenix

Pages: 216

Source: own

The Synopsis

For 15-year-old Michael, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. Before 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 find Hanna in the dock. The woman he loved is a war criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. Hanna must answer for a horrible crime, but she is desperately concealing an even deeper secret...

The Review

It is no secret that I have been feeling rather lost as a reader for the last month or so. I thought that reading a book like The Reader would help me to gain back some perspective and get my groove back as a reader, because being able to read and enjoying the art of reading are two of the greatest pleasures in life. I was right in thinking that The Reader would help to give me back my perspective, so if you are feeling a little lost as a reader, The Reader is just the book to help you find your way back.

I first read The Reader in 2009. I think I read it in one sitting, I was just so enchanted by it and I just had to know the story. Having said that, reading The Reader again this year, has made me realise that this is a book that I wish I could read again for the first time. Reading The Reader and knowing what Hanna's secret is does make you look at the story differently, but that first time, reading and not knowing yet what her secret is, is just something different. But now getting to my actual thoughts on The Reader...

The Reader is written in 3 parts, and each part is quite distinct in it's writing style. If you are reading this book for the first time, you may not notice it, but when reading more mindfully you see the development of the narrator Michael's understanding of the situation that he finds himself in. Bernhard Schlink does it so effortlessly in his writing that you can be forgiven for not noticing - this is precisely why this book is so easy to get into. It starts with short uncomplicated sentences in the speaking style - not with colloquilalisms - and easy thought pattern of a teenager, with limited insight to the situation. Moving on to part 2 where Michael realises Hanna's secret and that alters his view and understanding from his teenage years. Finally getting to part 3 where he sees the bigger picture and has a greater understanding of Hanna and why she did what she did. I realise I am being rather vague, but you have to have read The Reader to follow, and I don't want to give away any spoilers for those of you who have not read it yet.

This book is brilliant for many reasons, and it raises many questions that often we are not able to answer. This is a modern classic that has to be read, because it reminds us why the past wrongs should not be repeated, and makes us better people. If you have not yet read The Reader, I urge you to do so, as this is one of those books that you have to read, and please read the book before watching the movie! 


  1. I didn't like this one as much as you do. I agree that the writing was beautiful but I thought Hanna's secret was going to be something more after all of the build up through the novel. Perhaps it was the copy I read, it had something like "THE MOST SHOCKING SECRET OF ALL TIME" on the cover!

  2. The cover definitely ruined it for you then, it set your expectations too high. I am sorry that this was ruined for you.

  3. I've only seen the movie (which I thought was very good) and little things in Kate Winslet's performance led me to guess what her secret was before it's revealed. I agree with Sam that it's disappointing when they build it up so much, but luckily I went into the movie not knowing anything about the story, so I enjoyed it as is. Not the kind of book I'd normally read, but I like your discussion of the writing style and I might give it a shot one day.

    - Lauren (Violin in a Void)

  4. I remember reading this not long after it was published and just being floored by it. I haven't seen the movie, but I can see how knowing Hanna's secret could make a reread more difficult to enjoy (which is kind of why I never saw the movie). -Sarah

  5. Sounds like an interesting read desptie the feedbacks above. Well, a 15 year old boy having a clandestine passionate love affair with an older woman would make a fascinating read, if not slightly off putting. But then I am sure the reasons would be compelling.

  6. I read this book quite some time back, and now when I look back at my review, I realized that I have given up pretty much all the details there. I like the way you have written this review however, building interest without revealing the details...something I struggle to do in my reviews.

    I loved this book when I read it too. It's pretty powerful stuff.

  7. I read a lot of Holocaust literature in an attempt to understand man's inhumanity to man. This book was confronting for trying to humanise the other side.
    I'm not sure I will ever fully understand man's inhumanity to man, but this book did take me a step closer.

  8. I loved The Reader when I read it last year. It's an amazing book which asks some very pertinent questions. It's a deeply meaningful book and manages to point out that there is good in everyone, even when they have done horrible things in the past.

    Have you read Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl? Some of the same questions are asked in that gem as well. If you're interested, I reviewed it just recently on my blog. http://rachelreadingnthinking.blogspot.com/2012/09/mans-search-for-meaning_6.html


What did you think? I would love to read your comments.