The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr was originally published in Germany, where it remained on the bestsellers list for fifteen consecutive months. It was recently picked up as a mini-series by USA staring Jessica Biel. After reading the synopsis, I decided to give it a go — and also forced my friends to read it with me so we could discuss it over dinner & drinks this past weekend. Overall, all three of us enjoyed it, albeit had strongly mixed feelings along the way.
The Sinner is an excellent book club choice and I’m here to tell you why.
THE SINNER BY Petra Hammesfahr
First, please note that this book was also translated from German to English, not that this is important, but just giving you a heads up. Some could find the translation a bit distracting, but I actually think it helped make this novel so interesting and a bit harrowing.
In my honest opinion, the book was a complicated mess. Flashbacks were thrown into the middle of chapters, with zero warning. It’ll take you a few moments to realize that what you’re reading is actually a flashback, now told from a different characters POV (doubly confusing), and then back again to the present, in yet a different characters POV. I can guarantee you I wasted time rereading sections to try to figure out who I was following.
I had a hard time getting through the first 100 pages, and felt bad that I forced my friends to read this. But once you push through, it starts picking up quite a bit. The book was north of 300 pages, and was rather on the long side. I felt like they could have shaved off at least 80 pages worth of irrelevant details, but I think it added to the story in some weird way.
Cora Bender just murdered a stranger, with a pairing knife, in the middle of the afternoon at a crowded beach. She is now being held in custody while questioned. What on earth would make this sweet, kind, soft-spoken young wife and mother do such a crazy thing? The leading detective senses that there’s more to the story that Cora is feeding him…
Cora is a liar and untrustworthy, which makes this book tricky, considering 75% of the book is told from her POV, between past and present. There were times I wanted to shake her. Especially when you realize that some of the flashbacks to hold in her perspective are also elaborated.
But once you get to the meat of book, you start to understand that Cora’s version of the truth is severely distorted and damaged because of psychological trauma. It’s quite fascinating, actually. The human brain will go to no ends to protect itself, even if that includes creating an entirely made up version of reality.
When you do find out what happened, you’re going to be shocked. The truth — while yes, extremelly disturbing — isn’t at all what you think. Though the author tries to fool you, you THINK you know what happened, but you’ll be quite shocked at the ending. At least I was.
AND ITS NOW A MINI-SERIES!
I’m interested in checking out the USA mini-series, though I’m worried it’ll ruin the book for me… I really enjoyed this book. I spent several days thinking about the novel after I finished it. So many themes, so many complicated emotions, so much to discuss. I definitely recommend.