Saturday, January 2

The Red and The Black in The Reader: My Bell Rung with Mozart

Still have a few dollars in credit at Henderson's- the local used bookstore. Bought The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Oprah stain on the front redeemed by Steiner quote on the back. Looked for Hamsun's Hunger. Anything by Thomas Bernhard. Bookstore. Nada. Library. Nada. Also picked up Auerbach's Mimesis. Lost most of my books in the Great Sell Off.

Started The Reader, little ways into it, trying to discern the architecture of it, was suddenly reminded of Stendahl's The Red and the Black - which I read about 20 years ago. One of the few books that I brought up here from Austin. Found it on the shelf and started re-reading it. Up to Chapter VI: Boredom with the epigram from Mozart's Figaro:

Non so piĆ¹ cosa son, cosa faccio.
I no longer know what I am, what I'm doing.

I  set Stendahl down and went back to The Reader, hoping that it would "get to the meat" before my patience ran out. Reading where I left off, turned the page (40) and had my bell rung with this sentence:

But I identified more with Julian Sorel's relationship with Madame de Renal than his one with Mathilde de la Mole.

I'm not placing cosmic significance upon the synchronicity of  this. I just note it here for future reference.

Finished The Reader. I do not share all of Steiner's enthusiasm ("A masterly work.... The reviewer's sole and privileged function is to say as loudly as he is able, 'Read this' and 'Read it again.'") It would be my "privileged function" to say, rather quietly, "Read this and that should be enough."

The novel is divided into three parts. Written in an engaging simple style, the first part concerns a young man's falling in love with an older woman and her mysterious disappearance. This was the most tedious part of the book for me - and I set it down several times to return to Stendahl. But I persisted, slogging through to the second part, the woman now on trial for crimes committed in the service of the Nazis during the war. About halfway through this part, the young man discovers the core "secret" of the woman's character. And it is from this point on that the novel gains traction and depth. The elegiac final section is beautiful and redeemed the juvenal banality of the first. Read it - then read The Red and the Black.

A novel is a mirror carried along a high road. At one moment it reflects to your vision the azure skies at another the mire of the puddles at your feet. And the man who carries this mirror in his pack will be accused by you of being immoral! His mirror shows the mire, and you blame the mirror! Rather blame that high road upon which the puddle lies, still more the inspector of roads who allows the water to gather and the puddle to form.

- The Red and The Black, Ch. XIX