The Piano Teacher – Elfriede Jelinek

Book # 268

Reviewer: Beth, of Beth’s List Love  (FIRST PUBLISHED FEB 2012)

This book is a bizarre combination of beautiful, compelling, and incredibly disturbing. To say that the relationships in this book are unhealthy is a profound understatement. Yet the author captures her characters and their worlds with evocative prose that carries you along, and keeps you looking, wide-eyed, horrified at what you see.

To give a basic summary: Erika is a middle aged piano teacher in Vienna whose mother has pushed her all her life to be a star. The mother has tightly controlled every detail of Erika’s life, or so the mother believes. The result is a very repressed and grandiose personality in what otherwise might have been a fairly talented normal girl. Erika’s father has been taken off to a mental institution and is largely out of the picture, but he is definitely the least toxic member of the family.

As we get to know Erika, we learn that secretly she has become a voyeur, lurking at peep shows or in the bushes of a public park when she tells her mother she is attending chamber music concerts. She also slices away at her own flesh in front of mirrors behind closed doors. When Keller, one of her male students, develops an interest in her, the relationship plays out in unpleasant of ways which make a monster of an otherwise simply self-involved young man.

To give you a taste of the author’s style, at least in translation, here is a selection:

It’s no use, Erika is stronger. She winds around Mother like ivy around an old house, but this Mother is definitely not a cozy old house. Erika sucks and gnaws on this big body as if she wanted to crawl back in and hide inside it. Erika confesses her love to her mother and Mother gasps out the opposite, namely that she too loves her child, but her child should stop immediately! Now! Mother cannot defend herself against this tempest of emotions, but she feels flattered. She suddenly feels courted. It is a premise of love that we feel validated because someone else makes us a top priority. Erika sinks her teeth into Mother.“

Or this:

Erika’s will shall be the lamb that nestles down with the lion of maternal will. This gesture of humility will prevent the maternal will from shredding the soft, unformed filial will and munching on its bloody limbs.“

To say that I liked this book would be odd, but reading it was a riveting experience. I think if the content were something other than mutual psychic destruction, I would be giving it a 5. I’m definitely interested in reading more of Elfriede Jelinek‘s work.


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