[Published 2005 by Phoenix. First published in 1987]
There was a risk in picking up a book by Bernard Schlink after ‘The Reader.’ For over a decade, this book has remained one of my favourites and the only novel I have read by the author… until now. Perhaps I should have known that ‘Self’s Punishment’ wasn’t going to be another book that wedged itself firmly amongst my favourites, and yet there is something of ‘The Reader’ in it – like the smell of a sweet perfume that lingers in a room.
‘Self’s Punishment’ is a mystery story – it has the likable private detective with a shady past and a modern day crime to be solved. But there is something of the heart-thumping anxiety of a mystery that is missing and noticeably so in this novel. In many respects, this has been made up for in a story that snowballs upon itself and grows as you flip through the pages leading to an outcome you wouldn’t expect.
Hidden within the tale, the reader is forced to confront how many pro-Nazi Germans carried on their lives after World War II, dealt with guilt and a sudden change in ideology, and sought exoneration for any ills they may have committed as agents of an evil government. This starts as an undertone and builds into powerful food for thought as the story progresses.
It may not be one of my favourite books, albeit written by the man responsible for one of my all-time bests, but it caught my attention and filled my time for a while. In all of my ambivalence, I can’t help but recommend it.