I’ve been reading The Reader, hoping to compare the novel and its movie version on this site, but Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review of the film summed up my view of the book in a sentence. Lane suggests that idea of dramatizing this tale — “a low-grade musing on atrocity, garnished with erotic titillation” — was “pernicious from the start.” Novelist Bernhard Schlink describes a postwar love affair between a German schoolboy and an illiterate woman who had worked as an S.S. guard at a concentration camp.
“Imprisoned for life, Hanna must read to herself, but are we really supposed to be moved by the thought—or now, in [Stephen] Daldry’s film, by the sight—of an unrepentant Nazi parsing Chekhov?” Lane asks. “That is not culturally nourishing; it is morally famished.”
On The Charlie Rose Show, Daldry and screenwriter David Hare argued that The Reader is a fable and that the affair between young Michael and Hanna is a metaphor for Germany’s romance with Nazism. But balsa-wood scaffolding of the novel can’t support the weight of that claim. It hardly helped that Daldry kept saying that Germany is the only recent perpetrator of genocide (which might surprise the Kurds, the Tutsis, and others). Rose has done thoughtful interviews with writers and others. But his obsequious failure to challenge Daldry on the claim that only Germany had committed genocide made his show sound at times like public television’s version of Access Hollywood.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.