Day: March 14, 2012

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Where’s the smut in this? – The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

I’ve seen the film adaptation of this novel by accident. So why am I reading this? Of course, the book is always superior to the film adaptation, and the latter is just the director’s interpretation. I want to have my own interpretation of the novel.

The disc is lying on the lone chair of the communal living room of the boarding house that I used to live in. That was more or less a year ago. My board mates cannot be expected to be fastidious. Anyway, I was alone then, and the title piqued my curiosity. Most films with a non-English title intrigue me.

I popped the disc on the shared DVD player. There’s a blonde woman who bought a new dress and who was immediately castigated by her nagging mom. The woman bitch-slaps the mom, old enough to risk a cardiac with what her daughter, apparently, did. The woman, who appeared to be a professional with her demeanor, pulled her mother’s hair until she realized that a daughter is not supposed to inflict violence on her mom, regardless of what she is. They hugged each other and drank coffee.

The woman is the piano teacher, an excellent subject for a character study. The scene that I described above is narrated in the first couple of pages of the book. Why did she viciously attack her mother? Why did her mother nag her for buying a new dress? Why did she relent to her mother in a snap?

The narrative, which is devoid of quotation marks or any other mark to signify a verbal dialogue between, tends to be incoherent, mixing description of action, thoughts, and spoken words into a knotty web that might take some effort to untangle. The reader makes the effort, because somehow, the reason behind the woman’s action toward her mom must justify it.

We read some about Erika Kohut, a pianist who settles as a piano teacher in a prestigious music school at Vienna because she is way past her concert pianist dreams. She is uptight, intimidating, unapproachable, untouchable. The last could be the truest in any sense, for no man has touched her yet with the intention of taking her home as a loving wife. She lives with her overbearing mother who plots everything for her.

The two live in a cramped apartment living in illusions of grandeur, particularly the mother. The mother, right from the start, decided that her daughter will be a cultured pianist, so she raised her in rigorous piano practice, not giving her time to play, not allowing her to have male friends, not giving her a happy childhood in general.

Erika seems, on the surface, to be just fine, but roiling under her skin are her darker desires, such as her tendencies to steal stuff from people and throw them at the first garbage can, her wants to destroy her best pupils, and inclinations to not so normal hobbies.

When SHE’s home alone, she cuts herself, slicing off her nose to spite other people’s faces. She always waits and waits for the moment when she can cut herself unobserved. No sooner does the sound of the closing door die down than she takes out her little talisman, the paternal all-purpose razor, SHE peels the blade out of its Sunday coat of five layers of virginal plastic. She is very skilled in the use of blades; after all, she has to shave her father, shave that soft paternal cheek under the completely empty paternal brow, which is now undimmed by any thought, unwrinkled by any will. This blade is destined for HER flesh. This thin, elegant foil of bluish steel, pliable, elastic, SHE sits down in front of the magnifying side of the shaving mirror; spreading her legs, she makes a cut, magnifying the aperture that is the doorway into her body, She knows from experience that such a razor cut doesn’t hurt, for her arms hands, and legs have often served as guinea pigs. Her bobby is cutting her own body.

She also likes watching peep shows. She prefers her porn films to be sadomasochistic. She is a pervert, a violent woman who is on her way to self-destruction. And while going that way, she meets an overzealous engineering student who’d rather play piano than pay attention to his courses. He is dangerously handsome and seductive. I just finished that part where he is attempting to make a connection with Erika. Of course, I know what will happen, but I am still interested to know how everything will explode in the climax.

Sure, there are a lot of vivid images and unflinching mentions of the male and female anatomies, but I don’t think the author is trying too hard to shock. I’ve gleaned from a couple of friends that this work is terrible; a disgusting smut. To say that they hate it is an understatement.

I don’t think I will hate this. I might not find it as amazing as say, Hamsun or Laxness, but this isn’t so bad. It is daring, at times funny, disturbing exploration of a woman’s darker desires.

Date Started: March 12, 2012. 1:00 AM. Book #13 of 2012.

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