A new book by Bernhard Schlink is always exciting and this is his first general novel since The Reader. (He has published some crime novels and some stories) I remember vividly when I read The Reader. It was a rainy Boxing day at a beach house, and I didn’t move from the chair until I had finished it. It was, and remains one of my most pleasurable and enthralling reading experiences.
I’m afraid the new book doesn’t have that gripping quality. It is good, of course, but not in the same league. The action takes place in a country house over a weekend with a group of old friends gathering together when one of their number is released from prison. They were all part of a terrorist group years earlier, but Jorge was the only one imprisoned. His sister visited him regularly whilst he was in prison, but most of the others have had limited or no contact with Jorge or the others in the group.
As the weekend unfolds, there are revelations about what has gone on in each of their lives, about who has been ‘successful’ and who has stayed close to the ideals of their youth. There is a lingering curiosity over who it was who gave the police the information which lead to Jorge’s arrest and speculation goes around and around the friends. Old resentments rise to the surface, and the weekend deteriorates into something that none of them wanted, particularly Jorge. There is no great happy ending here, just people trying to make the best of their lives.
Read this, and then read The Reader if you haven’t already. Not the other way around.
This is a small gift hardback, $30 Heather