Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Austria

Author: Elfriede Jelinek
Title: The Piano Teacher
Translator: Joachim Neugroschel
Publication Info: Grove Atlantic, 2009 [originally published in 1983]
Summary/Review:

Erika Kohut is a woman in her mid-thirties who teaches piano at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory.  She lives with her controlling mother in a very taught and unhealthy relationship. Erika rebels in various including buying clothing she never wears, self-harm, and deliberately injuring strangers.  Over the course of the novel she also explores her repressed sexuality by going to pornographic movies, peep shows, and practicing voyeurism.

Walter Klemmer, a student over a decade younger than Erika, begins to show her attention. Their desire grows and when they finally acknowledge it, Erika requests a sadomasochistic relationship. Walter, who is an arrogant prick, really justs wants to have sex with an older woman and move on.  Things go horribly, horribly wrong.

I saw this book described as “erotic” but there’s absolutely nothing sexy about it.  In fact, it is quite repulsive.  Jelinek seems to revel in using the most unpleasant description possible for the human condition and the human body.  It just gets worse and worse and I really struggled to finish this book.  I’ve also seen the book described as “satire,” but it reads to me as nothing more than caustic misanthropy.

Rating: **