The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek is one of the least sentimental books you’ll ever read, one which depicts a woman trapped between a corrupt society and her deepest desires. This disturbing novel about sadomasochism, morbid voyeurism, self-harm, and stifling maternal love was first published in German (as Die Klavierspielerin) in 1983.

Restrictive society and darkest desires are depicted in this haunting portrait of a woman in limbo. Erika Kohut, a thirty-eight-year-old spinster who keeps a low profile, is a gifted Viennese piano teacher with an abusive mother, finds instances of autonomy only in deviancy and self-violence. Erika secretly attends Turkish peep shows and watches sadomasochistic films at night.

One day, Erika has caught the attention of a handsome, self-centered seventeen-year-old student, Walter Klemmer, who intends to seduce her. However, Erika wants to perform sadomasochistic rites with Walter before she will sleep with him; an explicit list of sadomasochistic acts she wishes Klemmer to carry out on her is detailed in a letter she writes him. Soon, they develop an affair but Erika views the relationship as a form of rebellion against, or escape from her mother, as she strives to exert total authority over their union.

Despite the novel’s controversial subject, it is a far cry from pornography in that it is incisive in scope and intelligently written. It has many occasions of extremely disturbing narrative but Jelinek’s sure-footed command of language elevates the rather depressing subject matter into an uncompromising vision that she has to offer.

Further Reading

The Piano Teacher – Elfriede Jelinek by Nymith, Pseudo-Intellectual Reviews

Elfriede Jelinek: THE PIANO TEACHER – Interview by Australian Films

The Society of the Spectacle: The inventive and iconoclastic energies of Elfriede Jelinek by Benjamin Poore, VAN Magazine

How To Read Elfriede Jelinek by Tim Parks, The New York Review

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