Tag Archives: Elfriede Jelinek

The Piano Teacher – Elfriede Jelinek (trans. Joachim Neugroschel)

I really don’t know where to start with this book, it has exhausted me and rendered me somewhat speechless.  Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek is one of those writers few have heard of, yet she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 for her “musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power.”

This story is so physical it is tiring to read and really quite disturbing in places.  Erika Kohut, the eponymous musician, teaches at the Vienna Conservertoire by day.  She is in her late 30’s, socially repressed, icy and a failed concert pianist.  During her lessons she enforces the rigours of classical musical technique, extolling the virtues of Schubert, Brahms and Beethoven to her slovenly and bored pupils.   By night she trawls the seedier side of Viennese peep shows and triple X cinemas, spies on couples having sex in parks, indulges in violent sexual fantasy and self harms to a distressing extent.  What makes this side of Erika all the more disturbing is the dispassionate way she goes about the darker part of her life.

The story is told by an unnamed narrator.  It is told as an onlooker, reporting the facts in a detached manner.  This stream of consciousness narrative style makes Erika come across as icier than we know, and sometimes makes the narration seem a little naive and childlike.  This is quite interesting because despite Erika’s age, she still lives at home and her mother treats her like an infant.  Their relationship is strange and claustrophobic to say the least.  It is Love/hate in the truest sense of the saying; Erika runs to her mother when things go wrong, yet on a couple of occasions they get into cat fights, scratch and tear each others hair, a punishment for the sorts of misdemeanors a teenager would get into trouble for.

When Erika becomes involved with a student 10 years her junior, her behaviour spirals out of control, sinking her ever deeper into depravity and towards self-destruction.  It can’t possibly end well, but slightly irritatingly the book comes to a sudden halt leaving everything unresolved.

I found this a really tough book to read.  It does say some interesting things about socially acceptable norms, gender stereotypes and the objectification of women but the oddness of the narrative style, the disturbing self harm and the sadomasochistic obsessions make for difficult reading.  But Erika is a lonely woman, trying to find herself and part of me felt sorry for her, I wanted her to find help – but how predictable and dull would that be?

I read this book as part of German Lit Month

Thank you to An Englishman in Berlin for suggesting this book.

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German Literature Month

I started writing this blog in February and since then I have been concentrating on building up a portfolio of reviews.  There have been several read-alongs and shared reading blog events I have wanted to join, but didn’t really have the confidence.  Now I feel I’m finally ready for a shared reading event and so have signed up for (yes, confirmed my commitment) to German Literature Month hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life and Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat (follow the links for more info).  If you’ve read any of my blog, you will know I have familial links to Germany, studied it at A Level and as part of my degree, I even spent a year at Trier University.  I still try to read a German language book per year in the original, although haven’t managed it for a couple of years.

This blog event is an opportunity to explore some books I might not normally pick up and I’m looking forward to finding some gems as I follow the other participants.  This is how the hosts have structured the month:

Week 1 (November 1-7) Novellas, plays and poems
Week 2 (November 8-14) Literary Novels
Week 3 (November 15-21) Genre Fiction – Crime, Fantasy, Horror, Romance
Week 4 (November 22-30) Read as you please

2012 is also the bi-centennial of the birth of the Brothers Grimm. We can’t let it pass without a Brothers Grimm Readathon. So we’ve put that in the calendar from 22-26 November.

The point is, to use the weekly guidelines, read and then write a review of as many German language books as possible.  At the moment my plan is to read at least 3 books (I’m not that fast, you see).  I have already finished one, hurrah!

The books I have in mind are:

  • Week 1 Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (trans. Anthea Bell) DONE
  • Week 2 The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (trans. Joachim Neugroschel) Thanks to An Englishman in Berlin for the tip on this one
  • Week 3 Crime & Guilt by Ferdinand von Schirach (trans. Carol Brown Janeway)
  • Week 4 Not sure yet

The review for Next World Novella will come in the next few days.  I hope I can keep up!