Bernard Schlink's The Weekend

A group of friends meet at a German country estate to reconnect after thirty years. They have come together to welcome Jorg, one of their luminaries who has just been released from jail, back to the family fold. At the height of their friendship, they fought, or at least sympathized, with the far left cause, the same inspiration behind the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. Yet, as the years unfolded, many of them have become absorbed in the same bourgeois life they so shunned. What appears at first to be a congenial meeting of close buddies, soon changes into a tense meeting of people who, after so much life under the proverbial bridge, hardly know each other. Jorg's sister, Christianne, believes that the weekend will help Jorg to transition into a calm life, one that will be radically different from his former existence as a murderous terrorist, but it is clear that many of the people she gathered around him have other ideas. Marko wants him to reclaim his role as leader of the revolution, Ulrich asks pestering questions to understand what it felt like to kill someone, and Ulrich's daughter just wants to sleep him so that she can say she did. The weekend is not going as planned.

The novel is at first reminiscent of a tried-and-true fictional structure: bring a group of people together and have them tell stories. One thinks of The Canterbury Tales or Boccacio's Decameron, but The Weekend is anything but a group of friends reconnecting. Yet, it never quite evolves to anything else. It is clear that the novel is supposed to make a larger point, but Schlink never quite gets it there. The novel contemplates terrorism: who are the terrorists, what does it mean to be a terrorist, how does one become a terrorist,etc. Yet, there are no definitive conclusions and the novel waffles over its own raised questions. The Weekend also ponders how the past and the present elide, and how, if at all, one can escape the past to embrace the future, but here, too, there is little definitive answer.

Perhaps the novel is too disparate in its focus. If Schlink had focused on the evolution of one character, it would have surely had a more specific outcome, rendering the intended meaning more clear. As it is, one leaves the novel feeling unsure of the message.

The Weekend shines, though, in its characterization and in the subtle interplay between characters. Schlink balances the various personalities and desires in the country house with aplomb, and the novel, at the very least, is interesting from this perspective. If you are looking, though, for a revelatory, jaw-dropping narrative like the one presented in The Reader, this is not your book. The Weekend is a far more blurry a novel than The Reader and may disappoint on this score.


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