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
2008, (English 2010)