The Woman on the Stairs by Bernhard Schlink
I’ve started my 2017 reading journey rather differently than 2016.
Drum roll please…..
I read a book written by a man.
If you caught Ms A’s review last month of our best picks of 2016, you’d know I only read female authors all last year. It wasn’t intentional – no 2016 resolution involved – but happily I report, book wise, it was a very good year indeed.
So hello January and hello Bernhard Schlink – best known for his book The Reader. I really loved reading this one and Bernard was a breath of fresh literary air. His treatment of the characters is sharp, his chapters are short. No mucking around. And a clever story to boot.
The title, The Woman on The Stairs is the name of a famous painting. The subject Irene is seen descending a stair case naked (surprise). She is (surprise, surprise) beautiful and beguiling – so much so she finds herself in a three-way tug of war between her husband (Gundlach) who commissioned the painting, the artist who painted it (Schwind) and the attorney asked to negotiate between the two for ownership of the painting and of Irene (yes, you read that right). The attorney is the narrator who remains nameless.
The story begins in Germany but ends in Australia where Irene has fled after stealing the painting and the three men’s hearts along with it. In remote Australian bushland she manages to live most of her life unknown and invisible. Until she gives the painting to The Art Gallery of NSW to exhibit – a pre-emptive move made to bring Gundlach and Schwind to her. By a stroke of luck, the attorney sees the painting in the gallery while working in Sydney and he tracks Irene down arriving just before the husband and artist. Their collective obsession with Irene has not waned.
The joy of this book is its conciseness – the characters are dense with drama, the ego mania is full tilt but the story telling is so precise, told with depth and with brevity in chapters that only last three pages. Three pages! Every single one.
Is this a male writers trait? Who knows and who cares frankly. I, for one, love it.
Short chapters rule. Bumper Sticker saying so coming soon.
And that is my 2 cents worth.