Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Christmas vacation, some airport and flying time was enough to finish The Reader. I am driven to try to read a novel before seeing a movie and knowing that Kate Winslet would probably be nominated for her work in the adaptation of Schlink's work, this novel was next on my "to read" list. It was a fast read, but one that posed many ethical and moral issues.

Set in a post-Holocaust Germany, Michael Berg, a 15 year-old, gets ill on his way home from school. Hanna Schmitz, a middle-aged streetcar attendant, helps him. Determined to thank her, Michael returns to her home and is seduced by her. The next months see both Hanna and Michael consumed with the trysts that ensue. Michael reads classic literature to her, they take a long bicycle trip, and are passionate about each other. Then one day Hanna vanishes without notice to anyone. Michael grieves for her and blames himself for her disappearance.

Part 2 opens with Hanna being tried as a war criminal. Michael is attending law school and happens to be observing the trial. He faces a moral and ethical dilemma as to whether to help her and possibly free her while at the same time revealing information about her past that she surely would not want made public.

In the last part of the book, Michael and Hanna meet again. She is in jail and he sends her books on tape. He has kept her secret and their secret. To say anymore would give much too much away about the book's end. Suffice it to say that The Reader will engage the reader as it portrays Germany in the 1950's and the way that it must reconcile the horrendous atrocities of the Holocaust with the role its citizens played during and after the Nazi regime.

The Private Patient by P.D. James

It has been a while since the blog has been updated. Unfortunately, the demands of preparing for the trip, Latin class, learning the Promethean board, and the general busy life, have usurped reading time. I was very conflicted about the new James book. Do I spend an undue amount and order it from the U.K or do I behave in a fiscally responsible way and wait for the U.S. release. I did manage to wait and promised myself that it would be my Thanksgiving read. And it was. P.D. James is the ultimate English mystery writer, IMHO. The Private Patient was worth the wait.

Set in the English countryside, the book details the last days of
Rhoda Gradwyn, an investigative reporter, who goes to Cheverell Manor, a private clinic, to undergo plastic surgery. Commander Adam Dalgliesh is called to investigate with his team. The suspects are assembled in one place and include the manor staff, the surgeon and medical team, a close acquaintance of Rhoda's and another patient. Each has something to hide and we are left to figure out the real motive. Woven into the story is a subplot of a lynching that took place 350 years ago and the mysterious haunted stones that stand behind the manor house. With the help of assistant Kate Miskin, Dalgliesh deconstructs the alibis and motives to reach the solution.

James writes with such a command of the English language that one is tempted to read the novel out loud just to hear the sheer beauty of the way the words are woven together. Her plots are craftily woven and always have the requisite number of twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of the seat. The Private Patient didn't disappoint and although a number of series story lines are seemingly wrapped up in the book, I remain hopeful that James will have another offering in the future. There are not many who can put together language, plot, and characters like she can.