(Pantheon, Oct. 2010)
Readers who appreciated The Reader (1995), by Schlink, would want to pick up this more recent novel (the translation was first published in 2010), in expectation of another skilful, intriguing read. Not so this one, featuring a group of Germans on a weekend get-together, that includes Baader-Meinhof sympathisers and a convicted murderer and terrorist. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth of the reader, partly through boredom and a lack of empathy, and partly through a bit of revulsion. I confess the motivation and thought processes of the weekenders left me cold, despite the lengthy discussions about the nature of revolution and terrorism in Germany.
The motivation of people who agitate against the very system into which they were born and educated, and now live well-off lives, have nice jobs, can afford to buy nice properties and drive nice cars, made no sense to me at all. Added to that, they seem to be remarkably degenerate and self-indulgent, stuck in their own heads and believing in their own hype.
The translation could not have helped: – two couples have sex after first meeting each other during the weekend, and in both instances, despite the fact that they are merely “thinking about getting involved”, and that the acts are dispassionate and mechanistic, Schlink chooses to describe the sex as “making love”, as if they were in a relationship already.
They argue, philosophise, have nice picnics in the garden and walks by the river, come out with some nasty disclosures – one about a little bit of contemplated brother/sister incest – and sort of randomly make out. In one instance, the teenage daughter, running around stark naked, has a temper tantrum because the former gang leader, recently released from prison, does not want to have sex with her, and everyone is duly understanding and sympathetic, more with the girl than the jailbird. And after a weekend of this, they all go back home.
Like the convicted terrorist’s motivations, which Schlink depicts as being unconvincing and irrelevant, the novel failed to move or engage me. Perhaps this is what Schlink is trying to say about the revolution and terrorism in Germany from the 1960s to the 1980s – and what it means today: it is history, and no longer relevant.