The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (Lisa HIll, ANZ LitLovers)

Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian author who writes in German. According to Wikipedia, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 for ‘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’.  The prize was not without controversy because of  her views about feminism and her political opinions, considered extreme.  She also offended the Academy for refusing to attend in person to collect the prize, but Wikipedia says this is because she suffers from anxiety disorders (which are none-too-subtly attributed to her mother and to her Catholic education).
I didn’t know any of this when I picked it up at the library; I borrow books like this when I see them to encourage my library to buy serious literature.  (Periodically it goes through phases of ‘dumbing down’ so the pressure needs to be sustained). So you can imagine my dismay when I looked her up online and found her work described as ‘whining, unenjoyable public pornography’   (Knut Ahnlund who in 2005 resigned from the Swedish Academy in protest) and on the Book Depository blurb as a ‘haunting tale of morbid voyeurism and masochism’, albeit ‘one of the greatest contemporary European novels’.   Intrigued, I then checked it out on GoodReads where most reviewers rated it highly…and then stopped messing about and started reading it to find out for myself.
It’s a wild ride.  It reminds me of the frantic prose in Rosa Cappiello’s Oh Lucky Country, and Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fe because it depicts extreme behaviour.  The turbulent piling on of images is like The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead.  

I read and blogged this book on December 5th, 2010.  To read the rest of my review please visit

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