I think that the success of Jelinek’s works and The Piano Teacher in particular can be attributed to the way how its style complements its themes. Her writing—in a sense—is beautiful; but it’s a beauty through pain. Density, overall thematic and narrative chaos, mixing “high” style of poetic metaphors with crude descriptions and vulgarities; writing about violence can be really tricky if you don’t have a particular plan, or sensibility to do it.
I love how the internal world of Erika’s thoughts mixes with the external one in a hauntingly captivating stream of consciousness—especially when it’s connected with music and experiencing it:
A world opens up to HER, a world whose existence no one else even suspects. Legoland, Minimundus, a miniature world of red, blue, and white plastic tiles. The pustules with which the world can be joined together release an equally tiny world of music. HER left hand—rigid talons paralyzed in incurable awkwardness—scratches feebly on several keys. She wants to soar up to exotic spheres, which numb the senses, boggle the mind. She doesn’t even make it to the gas station, for which there is a very precise model. SHE is nothing but a clumsy tool. Encumbered with a slow, heavy mind. Leaden dead weight. A hindrance! A gun turned against HERSELF, never to go off. A tin screw clamp.
Music, obsession, repression, sexual violence and so on, it’s all linked in such a strong and mind-blowing statement on human nature. Honestly I just don’t know how anybody could see her writings as just “a mass of text shoveled together without artistic structure,” if that isn’t only a stale literary conservatism. It’s interesting that such opinion was expressed as late as at the beginning of 21 century—though I do realize that it was only one member of the Swedish Academy who sparked the controversy.
There were moments when I was myself kinda repelled—not necessarily by the violence or atrociousness, but by the general feeling of hopelessness combined with the demanding style. But that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. A very uneasy experience, forcing us to think about the brokenness of human soul and psyche.