cover image The Woman on the Stairs

The Woman on the Stairs

Bernhard Schlink, trans. from the German by Joyce Hackett and Bradley Schmidt. Pantheon, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-87071-6

At the start of this exquisite novel from Schlink (The Reader), the narrator, an unnamed German lawyer, stumbles on a painting he recognizes, Woman on Staircase, in a Sydney, Australia, art gallery. The narrator recounts how he fell in love with the painting’s nude subject, Irene Gundlach, when he met her in his office with the artist, Karl Schwind, years before. Karl wanted to sue the owner, Irene’s husband, Peter, to permit Karl to photograph the painting for his portfolio. After finally obtaining access to the painting, Karl discovered a small tear and sought the lawyer’s further help procuring Peter’s permission to repair the damage. The ensuing case found the lawyer entering into shady dealings with Karl, Peter, and Irene. In the present, the lawyer hires a detective to find Irene. The search for Irene and the unearthing of her true story brings the narrator to a new awareness of who he is and how he wants to live his remaining years. Schlink offers a profoundly moving meditation on how one’s life is affected by the choices one makes along the way. [em](Mar.) [/em]