The Sinner is November’s Criminally Good Book Club pick – with all the hype surrounding the TV series, I was so excited to read this one!
Cora Bender killed a man on a sunny summer afternoon by the lake and in full view of her family and friends.
But why? What could have caused this quiet, lovable young mother to stab a stranger in the throat, again and again, until she was pulled off his body?
For the local police it was an open-and-shut case. Cora confessed; there was no shortage of witnesses. But Police Commissioner Rudolf Grovian refused to close the file and started his own maverick investigation. So begins the slow unravelling of Cora’s past, a harrowing descent into a woman’s private hell.
Hailed as Germany’s Patricia Highsmith for her bittersweet thrillers where the innocence of childhood collides with horrors enacted by adults, Petra Hammesfahr has written a dark, spellbinding novel which stayed at the top of the nation’s bestseller list for fifteen months.
I really liked the beginning of this novel, you get a quick snap shot of Cora’s life and then you’re thrown into the thick of it and Cora is murdering a man. Unfortunately, it all seemed to go downhill from there.
I have to say, I’m usually very lucky when it comes to reading translated fiction – the narration always flows, and I never feel anything was lost in translation. However, with The Sinner, I can’t help but feel that an awful lot was lost in translation as this novel felt very disjointed and lacked fluidity, making it a very slow read. I cannot be certain that this is due to the translation, but I imagine, that due to the nature of language, the haunting atmosphere and psychological thrills were lost somewhere along the way. Maybe, some things just read better in German!
However, this feeling of disjointedness could just as easily be a result of the plot itself – Cora is so clearly disturbed and in her ramblings, she is revealing some truth and a lot of lies. Police Commissioner Grovian [and the reader] have to try and separate the fact from the fiction; so, it may well have been this that caused the disjointedness as you’re not privy to the entire truth until the end of the novel. Cora is constantly changing her story, so things are not making a lot of sense throughout the read, although you are able to grasp the consistent theme in her ramblings that link to the truth.
The Sinner contains flashbacks to Cora’s past, but I was often confused when the switch in timeline happened and this also affected the fluidity of the read, it took me a while to figure out that the third person narration was the present day and when it switched to Cora’s first-person narration, it was a flashback.
Prior to reading this novel, I had no idea it contained a theme of religious fanaticism and when you couple that with the truth we finally get to know, it made sense but at the same time, it was very underwhelming. I really struggled to connect with all aspects of this book, I felt particularly distant from the character’s emotions even though I could so clearly see them. I feel a bit hesitant about watching the TV series now as this novel overall just didn’t work for me.