The Weekend, Bernhard Schlink

It seems that Bernard Schlink has a fascination (obsession) with guilt about the past! First his wonderful novel, The Reader, and now a similarly titled book called The Weekend. The Reader dealt with the concept of national guilt, exploring the manner in which ordinary German people dealt with their individual role in the events of World War II and the Holocaust.

The Weekend deals with a more contemporarily relevant type of guilt in its exploration of terrorism and its perpetrators. Without doubt, the premise of this novel is convincing – a member of a German student activist group and terrorist is released from prison and spends his first weekend of freedom with old friends and compatriots, each coming to terms with their own part in the acts of apparent revolution which lead to the deaths of several innocent bystanders. However, as a whole there is something missing in this novel which left me feeling that it was somehow unformed. At times I found the characters fascinating but they weren’t evolved enough for me. Jorg, the protagonist released ex-terrorist was clearly facing so many complex issues but he was consistently sidelined, not allowed to express himself fully, placed in a box by other characters and existing only through their expectations of him. This in itself could have been interesting if it was the main thread of the text; however, it wasn’t. It floated somewhere in the background in this half interesting but irritating fashion.

Outside of the grand narrative of this text, there are some very interesting issues that Schlink explores which indicate that he is certainly a gifted writer. The relationships between family members – brothers and sisters, mothers and children, husbands and wives – are all fascinating: “mothers could destroy their sons with their expectations”. The explorations of the contradiction of age and youth is also nicely formed: “We store our youth within us, we can go back to it and find ourselves in it, but it is past – melancholy filled their hearts, and sympathy, for one another and for themselves.” And, of course, the subject of melancholy is present throughout the telling:

“She hated melancholy when it imposed depression upon her. But mostly she loved the melancholy. She even believed it healed people. Anyone who loses himself in the high sky and the wide, empty land also loses what it is that is making him suffer.”

Mostly, however, this book is about life and the consequences of decisions that people make without realising the impact of those decisions for themselves and those around them. This book didn’t grab me and I certainly don’t think that it is Schlink’s best work. Whether or not this is a consequence of the translation is impossible for me to tell. My disappointment could be simply based on the fact that I high expectations based on my previous exposure to Schlink.

Do I recommend this one? I’m unsure. It definitely didn’t grab me … perhaps it will grab you?

“Sometimes something you haven’t even dreamed of falls into your lap. That doesn’t alter the fact that most dreams come to nothing. I’m the oldest one here, and even I don’t know anyone who has realised his dreams. It doesn’t mean life is pointless; your wife can be nice even if she isn’t your great passion, your house can be beautiful even if it isn’t the world. Anything can be meaningful and still not be the way you once dreamed it. No reason for disappointment, and no grounds for forcing anything to happen.”

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