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The Reader: A Review

December 11, 2009

I have a film blog where I snarkily review movies, but since I write it with my friend Brian, I always feel weird posting about things other than movies. And for some reason I’m really attached to this blog even though I never write anything in it. I can’t decide what it should be for. And this is not a commitment at all. I’ve just noticed that I forget everything about the books I read unless I have to write about them. Albums, too. Movies most of all. Maybe this can be my “Don’t Forget” blog. Yeah, that’s coherent.

I read The Reader one night when I was starting to get a little tired of the far superior Three Musketeers. I was surprised to find out how closely the book followed the movie, which I thought was terribly structured, but somehow the book doesn’t feel as artificial. That’s not to say that I really liked it all that much. The plot goes a little like this: boy and old lady bone, old lady moves away, boy is devastated but he pulls it together and goes to law school. While there he attends some nazi trials for war crimes and finds out his old lady lover was once a nazi that put a bunch of women in children in a church and let the building burn down. Bummer. She’s also illiterate, a realization that is meant to be a surprise, I think, but it painfully obvious in both the film and novel and is made even more painful by the flashbacks employed in both. So anyway, editorials aside for now, she goes to prison and the boy starts recording novels and poetry for her on tape. She learns to write from these tapes, then kills herself the day she’s supposed to get out of jail. From there it seems to go on and on with pages (probably about 10, but felt longer than the entire book) of regret and guilt.

I just read a review of a film called Thieves that Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote. He talks about how adult movies made for adults are rare. Movies like The English Patient pretend to represent adult feelings, but rather appeal to young adults with an overblown fantasy of love. Totally, right? And I loved the novel version of The English Patient. But I recognize it’s the perfect book for an early 20-something who had never really been in love before, and thinks feeding a burn-victim peeled plums is so beautiful.

The Reader feels a lot like The English Patient, actually. But with much more unbelievably silly sex. Anyone who has sex like they describe in this book, even in the early stages, has obsession issues they need to work out with a therapist (even ignoring the creepy Oedipal stuff going on). The fact that she’s an older woman didn’t shock me as much as it has other readers. Affairs with older men/women are common enough in fiction, but the pedophillic overtones in the novel are seriously creepy. In a good way, though. The allegations are subtly introduced and then her tendencies are left to the reader to decide. Does she only hang out with young people so they’ll read to her and not suspect her illiteracy? I, personally, doubt it.

Anyway, Oprah picked it for her book club, so I’m biased against it.

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