Here’s the thing about The Reader by Bernhard Schlink: if you have recently seen the film and not read the book, don’t. Listen to me when I say this, otherwise all you will be able to see in your mind while you read is Kate Winslet in a dirndl print dress, its hem trembling around her knees as she pedals a bicycle.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And don’t take this to mean that neither the book nor the adaptation are worthwhile, because that’s definitely not the case. Both are interesting and both have weight, but as the film is so stringently bound to Schlink’s words it is practically impossible to not to have Stephen Daldry’s movie in mind.
That said, what sparkles here is Schlink’s writing and, in turn, The Reader‘s contemplative, pensive nature. Schlink’s narrator Michael is so utterly swollen with guilt, love and desire that as he ages he can’t help but look back at his youth with a combination of longing and confusion. Michael’s past and present are revealed piecemeal and in such a way that the novel’s reader discovers events exactly as the protagonist himself does.
Or, I should say, the reader would, if he or she hadn’t yet seen the film.