In awarding her the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature, The Swedish Academy praised Elfriede Jelinek "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's cliches and their subjugating power." In her most well known novel, The Piano Teacher, Jelinek creates a shocking, angry, aching portrait of a society stubbornly fabricating its own obsolescence, and of a young woman whom this society has slowly fashioned into a ticking bomb.
Erika Kohut, piano teacher at the very prestigious, very stuffy Vienna Conservatory, is a quiet woman in her mid thirties devoted to Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, and her domineering mother. The two women's life together is a seamless tissue of desperate boredom, fueled by television movies, neurotic possessiveness, and hopeless dreams of a concert career whose hour has long since passed. Enter Walter Klemmer-handsome, arrogant, athletic, out to conquer the secret of art and Erika's affections with all the rancid bravado of youth-and suddenly the dark and dangerous passions roiling under the piano teacher's subdued exterior explode in a release of sexual perversity and long-buried violence.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of the most profoundly affecting books I've ever read. Jelinek is a master of metaphor, and her prose is stunning. I've never read another author who was better able to portray the "inner life". The subject matter was disturbing, but also very real. The immediacy of being inside Erika's head allows you no distance from what's happening to her, and within her. Don't let some crazy old Swedish guy dissuade you from reading this book. The stream-of-consciousness prose style is a bit daunting, but if you're willing to work for it, this book really pays off.
Elfried Jelinek's books cannot easily be translated into english. The translations I have read do not sound as powerful as her works in original german. The first time I read her back in 1997, I had already the inkling that she would be awarded the Nobel Prize someday. I remember telling a friend hours before the prize was awarded in 2004, that I hoped they would give it to Jelinek. The simplicity of her narration is what makes her stories authentic. Hours later after she was announced the winner, my friend emailed me: 'sie hat gewonnen.' She won. I could not believe I could foretell a winner. I felt I won, too.
Imagine a young man lusting after his piano teacher, an older female professor of music at a famous university who lives with her domineering mother. He pursues; she resists; he persists; she presents a list of kinky demands that, coupled with a bout of merciless sexual teasing, cause him to plan and then to execute an escape. First, however, he feels compelled to punish her physically for not yielding immediately to his importunate demands, and so he beats her to the point of breaking her nose and even a rib. In a puritanical society such as ours that considers the baring of an actress¿ breast on television sufficiently obscene to warrant a hefty fine from governmental regulators, a careful reader of this catalogue of conventional perversions, fetishes, and cruelties may be tempted to discard it as pornography until he recalls that it has just been awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. Puzzled, seeking some redemptive merit, such a reader may find it in the work¿s painstaking character development, in its rich store of anecdotes about classical composers, and in its lavish use of metaphors, elegantly translated from German by a skilled bilinguist whose own surname rendered in English is Newpenny. As the distinguished eighteenth-century lexicographer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, once wrote of a contemporary novelist¿s works, if you were to read Richardson [read Jelinek] for plot, you¿d hang yourself. Ultimately, the reader is left to wonder about the judgment and mental acuity of those who surprisingly elevated this work from well-deserved obscurity twenty-one years after it was first published in German.