The Piano Teacher, By Elfriede Jelinek

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The Independent Culture

When this startling novel about sado-masochism, morbid voyeurism, self-harm and stifling maternal love was published in German in 1983, it divided responses, as so many of Jelinek's writings have done.

In 2004, a scandalised member of the Nobel Prize panel resigned over the decison to award it to the Austrian author for her "whining, unenjoyable, public pornography," as Razia Iqbal mentions in her introduction to this latest edition (translated by Joachim Neugroschel). Erika Kohut, a talented Viennese piano teacher with an overbearing mother, finds moments of empowerment only in perversion and self-violation. Filmed by Michael Haneke, the novel is eloquent, intelligent and deeply unsettling; the polar opposite of pornography.