What could be more Austrian than classical music? Elfriede Jelinek‘s The Piano Teacher is a controversial story about Erika, an almost 40 year old piano teacher in the prestigious Vienna Conservatory, her possessive mother, and a 17 year old student.
In many ways it is such a sad story. Erika has a domineering mother, and their relationship is one of those strange ones you sometimes hear about, but don’t really want to believe. A mother is possessive of her daughter. She has laid out all the plans for her daughter’s life. The daughter should be thankful and live up to expectations. Whatever could go wrong…?
Erika does not really have any friends or relations. To an outsider it looks like Erika is ‘a good girl’, but the truth is something else. Erika rebels in many ways, but to be honest, who wouldn’t rebel in a situation like this? I mean, a grown up woman shares a bed with her mother, and the mother awaits for her daughter to come home every day.
Erika and her mother have physical conflicts, which does not come as a surprise. She is into watching dirty live shows and films. She buys the wrong kind of dresses, which are also too expensive. She hurts other people on purpose, and harms herself. Then she starts having a sexual relationship with her student, a minor.
Obviously the book has sparked a lot of interest and hatred. It would have been interesting to follow what happened in Austria immediately after the release. It is after all a Catholic country, and the subject of domestic abuse between a mother and daughter, and not to mention the illegal relationship between a teacher and her underaged student are not easy to accept. Also a female author writing about sadomasochistic sex, especially involving a minor. 50 Shades of Grey seems quite lame in comparison. If Madame Bovary stirred up emotions back in the days, so did the Piano Teacher in the 1980s. Even today I think sensitive people might want to avoid this book. Despite what some people might say about Jelinek’s books, she has won many literary awards, including the Nobel prize.
So many families are dysfunctional, and I’m sure many outsiders would ask, why doesn’t Erika simply leave? This mother-daughter relationship is so complex, in the end they only have each other, and after all these years leaving would be the hardest thing to do. Despite everything they ńeed each other. They also need help, but that’s another story…
I admire authors who are courageous enough to write about matters like these. Controversial and complex. Forbidden desire. Violence. Psychological problems. The human mind is probably the strangest thing on this planet. The sad part is that people with similar stories actually exist, walk amongst us every day, yet we cannot help them, since these lives are lead in secret, because who would ever understand and accept?