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The Reader

I read and enjoyed Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader when it was first published in English. I was reluctant to see the film adaptation, as I always am when I like the book. A movie can hardly improve on any but the shortest and lightest of novels, so the risk of disappointment is not usually worth taking. Nor were the reviews encouraging. Those I read had ranged from "high-gloss preposterousness" (Mike McCahill in the Telegraph), through "cold, cerebral work" (can't help but devalue the horror of the crimes of National SocialismThereader

The reviews tell you more about modern Britain than about the film. Ms Ide, for example, misses the point in exactly the way I would have guessed. The recent focus on 20th Century history in British schools has left a cheap, shallow, impression of Nazism (and, by implication the Germans who gave birth to it) as uniquely evil. As a senior, intelligent colleague said to me recently (with terrifying complacency) "a police state couldn't happen here, we are too nice." So, I wanted to cry out, are the Germans "nice". So are the Chinese and so are the Russians. So, I imagine (though I have no personal experience) are the Albanians, the North Koreans and the Cubans. Every human has the potential for good and evil. So it does not "devalue the horror" to show (as the movie does) how a lowly citizen could be drawn into wickedness. Quite the opposite, in fact. If such horror could happen in the most civilised country in Europe, it could most certainly happen here - or anywhere else.

As the afternoon-TV sentimentalism of modern British culture disgusts me, "cold" and "cerebral" are actually encouraging words in a film review. They suggest the movie might actually be "a thinker," rather than the usual cheap tug on the heart-strings. As for "high-gloss" and "preposterous", these must be discounted for British puritanism. As it turned out, they were plain wrong anyway. McCahill must must have mixed up his reviewing notes, as The Reader is anything but either.

Mrs P. wanted to see the movie today. I reasoned that looking at Kate Winslet's naked form could be no hardship, so (though I wanted to see Defiance) I agreed. I am glad I did. Forget the sneering reviews. It is a wonderful film. The screenplay is a spare, elegant and atmospheric adaptation of the book and a fine piece of writing in its own right. The direction moves the story along unhurriedly, but economically. There are several rock-solid performances, not least from dependable Ralph Fiennes (whom I saw recently on stage as Oedipus), but most notably from Miss Winslet. She is the real acting deal. I hope this movie will launch a long career as a serious actress, even after men stop going to her films on the "no hardship" basis I did today.


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Mr Eugenides

I haven't read the book, I must admit, and was not aware of it prior to the publicity surrounding the film.

I planned to see the film last week but never got round to it; after your positive review I shall certainly do so.

Like yourself, I am generally wary of watching the film adaptations of books, but I am also often disappointed when seeking out the book on which a film I've recently enjoyed has been based; not [usually] because the book is inferior, but because my preconceptions are so fresh that I spend 400 pages trying to remember if there was a corresponding scene in the movie I've just watched.

The solution, I've found, is that when a film adaptation moves me to discover an original novel, I allow a few months to pass before I finally read it. That way I can enjoy the book in its own right rather than superimposing Kate Winslet's face (or naked body) onto each line of dialogue.

Sean Jeating

Now, how could even a lazy commenter like me resist to be the third after Lady Limoncello and jmb?
Glad you all did/do like the book; and good too read the film seems to capture its density.
My best wishes to Mrs. P.
And, of course, to you, too, Sir. :)
The peace of the night.


I am a big fan of this book too. I have been trying to get my book club to read it for years, to no avail.

I think I read it long enough ago that I will not compare it with the book.

Thanks for giving us a good review so that we need not take notice of the others.

Now I'll never get it into the book club!

Kate Winslet is a very good actress and hopefully will be around a long while. Of course roles for women as they age are more of a problem than for men. Now why is that I wonder? Well not really, I know darn well why it is so.

Welshcakes Limoncello

Thanks for the review, TP. I didn't know the film had been made. I thought the book was wonderful.

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