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Elfriede Jelinek: Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher)

Jelinek’s best known novel, primarily because of the film, is another of her novels about troubled sexuality. Erika Kohut is a successful piano teacher at a conservatory in Vienna. She is single and still lives with her domineering mother. Indeed, her mother wanted her to become a successful concert pianist but mother has been disappointed. Erika is not an open rebel. Her rebellion is generally silent. It may well be that she did not follow the career chosen for her by her mother purely to spite her mother but even that is kept to herself.

But it is in her sexuality that Erika expresses her rebellion. For Erika’s sexuality is hidden and often sordid. She goes to porn movies and live sex shows. She spies on lovers. She masturbates. Jelinek gives us a wonderful picture of the seamy side of Vienna as seen by Erika in her search for sordid sex. However, it is with her student, Walter Klemmer that she really humiliates herself. It is he that pursues her. Initially she resists but, when she does give in, it is not for a romantic love affair or even a quick fuck behind the piano stool but, rather she goes for some rough trade, which ends up with her getting knocked around.

Jelinek’s novel is not for the faint-hearted. Some have accused it of being pornographic. Of course, it is not but it certainly uses pornographic elements and does not give easy answers to the issue of sexuality. Jelinek’s portrayal of Erika’s cruising and her relationship with her mother is masterful and Erika’s final self-mutilation – she stabs herself in the shoulder – sums up her sexual tragedy. You are not going to read this for laughs.

Publishing history

First published 1983 by Rowohlt