The Weekend – Bernhard Schlink

I didn’t want November to come to an end without reading at least one book for German Literature Month – which is being lovingly hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life and Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

I’d been meaning to read something by Bernhard Schlink. The Reader is one of those books that was everywhere for a while, but I’ve never been that keen to try it. The concept of The Weekend though was more appealing, a short novel, set over a period of three days, the reunion of a group of old friends/colleagues more than 20 years later. The reason for the reunion? The release from prison of one of their number after 24 years. The common thread amongst them all – they had been Baader-Meinhof activists/sympathisers.

So far so good – except I hadn’t yet opened the book and that was when things went a little awry. Despite being set over a period of just a few days, the scope of the book is massive, encompassing the individual stories and history of the characters along with the collective sense of responsibility they carry for the historical actions of their country.

It all sounds very intense but unfortunately it wasn’t. For me there was something uncomfortable about the pacing of the story, after the briefest of introductions to the reader, the characters almost immediately launch into intense revelations, conflicts and intimacies with each other. Secrets are revealed in a way that seemed a bit too casual. I don’t very often say this because I appreciate shorter books but I think it could have been longer with time for character development and time to build tension. There is also reference to the September 11 attacks which I don’t think worked at all.

So it probably sounds as if I really didn’t like it which isn’t quite true – I never considered not finishing it and there were glimpses of brilliance. The idea of rebuilding friendship and trust in the symbolic setting of a run down old house that is itself in need of rebuilding I liked. The fear of a man re entering society after nearly a quarter of a century and being torn between reforming his life or continuing where he left off as a hero to the cause – on some level I can appreciate. Unfortunately though it all seemed a bit wooden and I came away not feeling much for any of the characters.

The book though has inspired some further reading. The Baader Meinhof Complex by Stephan Aust looks to be an excellent non fiction account of the Baader-Meinhof group. Perhaps I should have read that first.

Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

215 pages
2008, (English 2010)

8 responses to “The Weekend – Bernhard Schlink

  1. Interesting. I wasn’t aware he wrote about the RAF. I reviewed the movie not long ago and also mentioned it in another post. Here
    Have you seen it? It’s quite good.
    I’m a bit puzzled he chose such a short form but I think I’d like to read it anyway. I’m curious to see how he did it.

    • Caroline – I have seen the movie and thought it was really good. You have put together a fantastic list of German films – I wholeheartedly support your mission to promote them! I will be really interested to see what you think of The Weekend if you get to read it – it may be it went a bit over my head.

  2. Schlink has been a common choice this month, but he’s not one I’ve got into yet. This sounds (in some ways, at least) a little like Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’, another short book, set in a tight timeframe with the backdrop of the terrorist attacks.

    • Tony – I have actually though about picking up Saturday on two occasions recently but for some reason stopped short. I think I will give it a go though as I like the idea of the tight timeframe and background – thanks for mentioning it and taking the time to comment.

  3. Thanks for this review, Tracey. I’ve read The Reader, and thought Bernhard Schlink is a writer mostly preoccupied with the “post-war’ German psyche of conscience/guilt, which also leads to generational conflicts between parents during the war and their offsprings who come after. So I was curious to see what’s The Weekend is about. But you’ve confirmed that, yes, this is very similar to concept he deals with in The Reader, which BTW, is not a long book either, just 218 pages. If you’re interested I’ve written a review of it, discussing the book and its film adaptation. You’re welcome to check it out.

    • Arti – thanks for your comment and I will definitely check out your review of The Reader. I’m sure Bernhard Schlink has masses of insight and writes deeply about these issues, I found it hard to really relate to and feel what he was trying to impart and I think without that the whole story in The Weekend seemed wooden. I suspect I may have the same reaction to The Reader which I know is very popular and highly thought of. Hmm – plenty to ponder which is all good.

  4. I read and loved The Reader and I’ve being told to read the Weekend so it was interesting to read your review and get another perspective.

    The story itself sounds very interesting but I guess when there is that much going on in the story you do need a book of decent length. Otherwise it’s too hard to fully connect to the story and people. I’ll have to remember to keep an eye out for this book.

  5. Lubylou12 – thank you for taking the time to comment. I have heard such good things about The Reader and am really interested to read the thoughts of people who have read both. I hope you enjoy The Weekend when you do get to read it.

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