As part of the 2009 mini challenges, #10 invites you to take part in a group discussion about a book. A few of us at work had been reading this one and there had been conversation about it already, so I canvassed opinion from some fellow Octogonian's, so as to bring it together here on my blog as a discussion.
Besides myself (L), there was another female (P) and a male (G).
G started the whole thing off because he had spoken to P about it being the best book he had ever read. After P had read it she lent it to me. G had read it about 6 years earlier.
On completing the book all of us felt moved by what we had read. G had an 'overwhelming sense that this was a book that should be read by others.' He has given it as a birthday gift many times. P had mixed feelings about it on completion because she felt she had expected more from it, after hearing a lot about it from G and in the media. L was surprised at how much it had made her feel during the latter part of the book.
Both L and P preferred the last parts of the book, feeling that the first part, about their affair, was necessary but could be a bit flat in parts. P said this made Michael seem 'quite cold and difficult to relate to'. L felt this applied to Hanna too in the first part. G however did not share our view and really enjoyed the first part, and found the relationship between the boy and the older woman was tender and moving. L felt that maybe the flatness in the first part, and the straightforward narration throughout may have been down to the translation. P and G did not notice any difference with it being a translation at all. P felt the narrative style added to Michaels honesty in retelling the story and L agreed.
All of us found the accounts of the Holocaust during the trial had a great effect on us, but we were also moved by the love story, particularly the latter parts of it. As it was a while since G read it, he could not remember specifics about the characters, except that it presented a lot of complex questions about how humans behave. P 'never felt that [Hanna] was a monster' and all of us felt some sympathy for her. We all felt that this was the books greatest strength, presenting a well documented part of history as 'shades of grey' instead of black and white. G said that 'the questioning of morality and the manner in which it is told is one of the highlights of my literary life'.
All of us have kept certain scenes or images with us after finishing the book, most notably the images of the burning church, the conversation between Michael and his father, and the later meeting between Michael and Hanna. P also found the turbulance of the early relationship stayed in her mind, and for G it was the beauty of it. P really liked the details that the book went into, especially 'when it came to relationships and the difficulties of love'.
All of us felt that the book was trying to present a different view of the events in Germany during the war and this was why it was important. P felt it was also giving an 'insight into relationships and the challenges that come with them, whether it's between two lovers or two family members'. L agreed because Michael not only talks about Hanna, but his relationship with his parents in post-war Germany. P mentioned that Michael and Hanna are 'quite isolated people' and this adds to the level of how moving the story is as it develops.
P and L have also read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak recently and so comparisons were natural with both being about the Holocaust. Both totally enjoyed The Book Thief and P said it has 'become one of my favourite books' so it was interesting to compare the two. P and L agreed that they were extremely different, and 'both very moving'. P felt they had 'touched me in different ways'. L felt that her emotions were more dramatic in The Book Thief but also anticipated much more. Although L cried buckets with the former, it is because she did not expect any tears from The Reader, when they came she felt more surprised by it and also by the parts of the book that caused them. P felt that both books gave 'very human and honest accounts of events that happened during the war' and she feels that 'this is why they were both so easy and enjoyable to read'.
P and L now want to see the film. G felt that the film would be interesting but did not say if he was planning to see it.
Many thanks from L to P and G for taking part and sharing their views on this novel. The Reader is a great book to start a discussion because of its content and style. It has been excellent to share views in this way and I love talking about books generally.
See below for my (L's) full review or click here.