The Piano Teacher
The Piano Teacher
The Piano Teacher
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Price: $6.85 FREE for Members
Type: eBook
Publisher: Grove Press
Page Count: 177
Format: pdf
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802144616
ISBN-13: 9780802144614
User Rating: 4.3333 out of 5 Stars! (3 Votes)

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Sexuality and violence are coupled in this brilliant, uncompromising book set in modern-day Vienna, by the winner of the 1986 Heinrich Boll Prize. Erika Kohut, a spinster in her mid-30s, has been selected by her domineering mother to be sacrificed on the altar of art. Carefully groomed and trained, she's unfortunately not gifted enough to become a concert pianist. Instead, she teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatory. She still lives at home, and in the eyes of the world is the dutiful daughter. But there's another, perversely sexual side of Erika that she finds difficult to repress. She goes to a peep show, frequents the local park where Turks and Serbo-Croats pick up women and, just for kicks, slices herself with a razor. When one of her students, Walter Klemmer, falls in love with her, Erika demands sadomasochistic rituals before she'll agree to sleep with him. While the subject matter is deliberately perverse, Jelinek gets behind the cream-puff prettiness of Vienna; this novel is not for the weak of heart. Violence is a cleansing force, a point that brings back uncomfortable overtones of an Austria 50 years ago.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Teaching piano daily at the Vienna Conservatory is all that remains of Erika Knout's once promising career. Lately, however, her love for her star student, Walter Klemmer, is disrupting both her well-ordered professional life and her emotionally rigorous world at home with Mother. This neurotic love triangle, in which violence is confused with love, evolves toward inevitable breakdown as Erika finally defies Mother and, through Klemmer, excites chaotic passions. With her facility for metaphor and stylish narrative, Austrian Jelinek bears comparison to Schmidt and Boll at their best. Hers is a powerful debut in English; with five other novels awaiting translation, she should develop a large audience among serious readers. Paul E. Hutchison, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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| 4 out of 5 Stars!

This is a difficult book, though gruesomely compelling in its exploration of psychological and sexual pathology. Erika Kohut, in her late thirties, is a piano teacher at what is clearly the extension division of the Conservatory. A failed concert pianist, she has been brought up under the total control of her mother, who still shares a bed with her. But Erika has a fantasy life of her own, and when she attracts the attention of a much younger student, her fantasies and the young man's interests collide, dragging both down into a mire of perversion.

The first hundred pages are the most difficult, since they set up the background for what follows. Jelinek writes in a dense but colloquial prose style that mingles various strands of psychic monologue, sometimes dealing with the past, sometimes the present, sometimes occupying a dream world, sometimes almost literal, so that the reader is forced to let go of all normal landmarks. But by the time the actual narrative takes hold, one has been mesmerised into following the story from the inside of the characters' minds rather than as a series of external events. That in itself is quite an achievement.

Jelinek was herself a student at the Vienna Conservatory, so she knows what she is talking about in musical matters. Music is used as a constant frame of reference, though more frequently as a demanding taskmaster than a romantic escape. But while all this rings true to a professional musician (I am one myself), I do not think that the metaphors would be lost to those without a musical background. On the other hand, do not read this book expecting a window on a glamorous world; there is very little glamor in Erika's life, and her service to music is no exception.

Elfriede Jelinek was the 2004 Nobel laureate in literature, but I recall that it was a controversial choice. Though her voice is unique and compelling, it is difficult for an outsider to place her among the greatest authors alive today. So I suspect that this novel can also be read as a political statement, in terms of what the Nobel citation called "the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power." Unfortunately, I do not know enough about modern Austria to know whether the story of these three particular characters can be seen as an expressionist metaphor for the Austrian psyche, or as a lurid parallel to events in postwar history.

| 4 out of 5 Stars!

I was first exposed to The Piano Teacher by way of film, which is excellent, but it left some lingering questions about the psychological mindframe of the leading characters. The book offers a very twisted glimpse into the minds of Erika, her Mother and Walter Klemmer, and does so with incredible dexterity.

If anything, I was impressed by the fluidity of the text, of the author's ability to integrate all three voices into one and still sound impartial with every character. Her language might bore some people as it is filled with curious metaphors and details, but she has an amazing ability to go on many tangents from something very trivial to something quite absurd.

This book is very psychologically disturbing. There is a constant power struggle within the Mother-daughter-intruder triangle and the roles are constantly switching off, with the rarest of outcomes. Sexual roles are also misplaced, with the woman the violent and rapeful while the man is cast into the submissive and traditional type.

If you could look past the violence and insanity of this book, you would find it highly enjoyable and thought provoking.

| 5 out of 5 Stars!

You might not expect to find a novel that among other things links chamber music with the perils of perfectionism, sexual masochism and sadism - and the inner and outer life of a talented and tormented woman. "The Piano Teacher" does this and much more.

Erika Kohut is a former music prodigy in her late thirties, a teacher at the Vienna Conservatory, strict and rigid with her students - as well as with herself. Her father left shortly after her birth and she lives with her elderly mother, who is, we are told, old enough to be her grandmother, and her "inquisitor and executioner all at once." Her mother has given her all to assuring her daughter's talent: "Erika has never had to do housework, because dustrags and cleansers ruin a pianist's hands." The daughter's "vocation is her avocation: the celestial power known as music." Erika has a room of her own in their apartment - mostly a place to hide some of her possessions. Mother and daughter sleep in one bed. Her mother expects obedience, loyalty - and Erika's paycheck, which is to help buy them a new apartment.

Erika wants a life of her own but has no idea of how to go about getting it. She is repulsed by the fact of her aging and by her femaleness. Love and suffering are inextricably linked. She wanders through Vienna after work and lies to her mother in order to indulge herself occasionally in excursions to peep shows and furtive shopping trips to buy beautiful, well-made clothes which she takes home stuffed in her briefcase - so that Mom won't see.

Erika's cacophonous memories of her past sexual episodes with men roil in her head. She is overwhelmed by herself. She cannot feel nor respond to conventional expressions of tenderness and love. She knows what she wants, however, and develops a relationship with a much younger student, Walter Klemmer, in order to get it.

This is an amazing novel about an unconventional and unconventionally disturbed woman, the urge to direct one's own suffering, and the consequences of a life so thoroughly dedicated to control and perfection. The descriptions are compact and rich: not a word is wasted. It's a political novel, too: critical of modern bourgeois life. I was mesmerized and disturbed by it, and awed by Jelinek's abilities.

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