Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I recently made a trip to the movie theater to see Kate Winslet in The Reader. I have always liked her as an actress, and I thought she more than deserved the Oscar. The movie had a quality about it that absorbed me into the plot as few films do. I felt myself in Michael’s place, and I saw women I knew as Hanna. When I left the theater, I wanted the soundtrack and the book.

My principle reason for wanting to read the book lay in the fact that some details of the story puzzled me. I did realize early on that Hanna could not read, but other more important details of her conduct in running away from Michael and her answers to questions at the trial bewildered me. I also felt unclear about Michael’s motivations.

The book answered all these questions. New questions which remain include why the director and writer added some plot details to the film and deleted others.

The decades old conflict of book versus film rages within me. However, I fully recognize that films and books live in two different sections of the media. Comparisons are difficult, but in this case, the film represents an excellent piece of work, as does the book. I feel both can stand alone and give enjoyment of a different sort.

Someone who has not seen the film might want to read the novel first – that would be my preference. As I read, I tried to form my own picture of Hanna, but Kate kept slipping into my consciousness. In the end, I surrendered and kept her in my mind. She played the part well, she looked the part, and she gave voice to the part. I am happy with the result of all those things.

The combination of the book and the film have given me a better understanding of those times, those people, and that trial. This powerful psychological portrait of characters forced to deal with their past actions is exactly the kind of novel I love to read. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 3/1/09

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