wilderthan: ((Books) Stack)
[personal profile] wilderthan
The ethical discussions in Bernhard Schlink's The Reader are nothing new to me. That's not really surprising, considering that I've done years and years of ethics and philosophy, and Nazism inevitably gets discussed in that kind of context -- not just once or twice, but over and over again. So I actually found the ethical side of this reasonably simplistic and unsatisfying, but that's not surprising.

I found it hard to connect with the book, really. Part of that was probably the translation -- no matter how good a translation is, for me, it never really connects me with the book. Part of it felt kind of like the numbness and detachment that the main character describes.

I liked some of the thoughts that went into this. I liked the idea of the images of war being frozen, becoming cliché. It just didn't come together into a brilliant whole for me -- I thought it was okay, not bad, but not brilliant either. That's probably a bit the translation, and a bit the fact that I'm used to this whole discussion.

The plot feels clumsy to me. Not for the reasons someone else mentioned -- I don't believe Hanna is evil, and I don't think it's a pathetic attempt at giving an evil person a disadvantage to make people pity them. It just felt like it was a rather clumsy plot-device to begin with. I was thinking all the way through about how this story reflected on the Milgram experiments (or how they reflected on it). Particularly I thought of the line in Dar Williams' song, Buzzer: "It's when you do things you're not proud of, but you're scraping by, taking orders from above. I get it now, I'm the face, I'm the cause of war, we don't have to blame white-coated men anymore." So Hanna to me was "the face, the cause of war", without having to be an awfully evil person. I don't believe that all Nazis, all people who just went along with the system were. I think they're morally responsible, in some ways, but I also have some inkling of how high the pressure is to conform.

In a way, Hanna actually detracted from that. She wasn't just an ordinary person swept along with it all, she was an illiterate person going to amazing, selfish lengths to hide that fact. She comes up, in my mind, more morally responsible than others. Pitiable, perhaps, and not entirely evil, but her selfishness makes her more incomprehensible to me.

I don't really know what to make of the final section, especially the very end and what happens to Hanna. It doesn't particularly arouse sympathy in me -- I find it pathetic, but not something I can really sympathise with. I liked the touch of him recording the cassettes for her.

Overall, I'm kind of mostly ambivalent about the book. It's a strange mix of genres -- the love story/bildungsroman aspect, the philosophy, the historical stuff... it doesn't come together in a harmonious whole for me.

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Eden

October 2013

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