The Reader NSFW

The week before the Easter holiday I finally watched the excellent film adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s “The Reader.” I’ve always been a huge fan of Kate Winslet and found her Oscar winning performance to be extremely moving. As a frustrated director I was trying to think of an aspect of Hanna’s character that she might have overlooked. Although if I’m being honest it didn’t take me too long to realise that it was all right up there on the screen: the quiet numbness, the veiled anger, the dry sense of humour when she refers to Michael as the “kid!”

Because the book deals with such emotive issues I thought it would be an interesting challenge/tightrope walk to redesign the cover. It’s the type of brief I haven’t done in a long while and it seemed like a good way of expressing my thoughts on such a layered narrative.

From the beginning I wanted to produce something that was startling to the eye but sympathetic to the various issues raised in the book. Foremost in my thinking was the effect that the relationship with Hanna had on the young Michael; in many ways she’s the anvil on which he is forged. In my experience even when things go wrong you still want that other person to go on and prosper in real life and then on reflection to run around in some happy slice of your head. But what do you do if the other party becomes something monstrous? How do you reconcile those memories? As the book puts it “Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever.”

I decided to represent Hanna as an idealized apparition of a woman,  a siren if you will, to which Michael is drawn and destroyed. I’m making no apologies for the nudity after all it’s the flesh that ensnares him. He’s not drawn to her because of her sparkling repartee. If you look closely at the image there are slight changes in her anatomy expressed through the use of harsher highlights; nothing too dramatic. I felt like it was important to keep things extremely low key and steer clear of the sort of imagery where the body is analagous to a weapon i.e. ribs become knife blades. The last thing I wanted for the piece was to create some Gigeresque  angel of death.

The letter A on her left arm is not something that appears in the book or the film. I included it to subvert the image of beauty. Apparently some of the SS had their blood group tattooed onto their upper bodies in case they were rendered unconscious and in need of a blood transfusion. I like the idea of Hanna, who is illiterate, being branded with a letter of the alphabet; a land in which she is lost. Although it’s foolish to suppose that the world of words and books could ever save her.

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