Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Herman Koch’

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

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I like Herman Koch’s novels, but I don’t want to meet any of his characters in a dark alley or even on a sunny day on the beach. The Dinner has stuck in my head because of the unsettling characters. The behaviour of the characters from Summer House with Swimming Pool also left me feeling uneasy.

House with a Swimming Pool is narrated by Doctor Marc Schlosser, who on the face of things is a devoted family man, husband and father. Marc is a doctor with a successful practice and is often invited to star-studded movie premieres, plays and concerts by his famous patients. Underneath his capable appearance though, Marc is squeamish, and doesn’t really like people or their bodies.

The story starts with Marc being charged for malpractice after Ralph Meier, a famous Dutch actor, dies. The rest of the story tells us how and why Marc found himself in this position.

Before Ralph’s death, Marc, his wife and two daughters (one 14 and the other 12), went camping near Ralph’s summer holiday house and when they met at the beach, were invited to pitch their tent in Ralph’s yard. Marc, who engineered the meeting, accepted because he intended to have an affair with Ralph’s wife.

Of course, things went horribly wrong on the holiday and become worse and worse for Marc and his family, but also for Ralph, his family and other houseguests for reasons which I did not see coming. This was possibly because I was too busy feeling squeamish myself after reading a horribly graphic account of an eye infection that Marc suffered. The pus, treatment and general yuckiness was described in such detail that I could only just manage to read this section of the story. Marc regularly tells (in loads of detail) about bodily functions and illnesses which disgust him, all of which add to the uneasy feeling of the story.

I cannot imagine why Marc ever became a doctor, but am grateful Herman Koch became an author, even if he is one I would cross the street to avoid. He writes about psychopaths and people with skewed morals and values so well that I’m more than a little frightened of him too.

 

 

 

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The Dinner by Herman Koch

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The Dinner by Herman Koch is a thriller of the nastiest kind.

The story is narrated by Paul Lohman over the course of an evening, while he and his wife Claire have dinner with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette, at a ridiculously fancy and expensive restaurant.

Paul knows in advance that everything Serge says and does during the evening will infuriate him. At first this appears to be the usual case of sibling rivalry. Serge is a politician who is in the running to be the Netherlands next Prime Minister, while Paul is a former high school history teacher, who has not worked in ten years because of his anger management issues.

However, despite Paul wishing he were anywhere else, the two couples have agreed to meet for dinner to discuss a secret. Their teenage sons have committed a crime, which is so far only known to themselves.

I can understand Paul and Claire wanting to protect their son. But what Michel has done is not something that he or Rick should be protected from facing the consequences of, but the lack of humanity in the characters in this novel is frightening. The actions of the characters does not even compare to the type of people they are though, what they are capable of and how undetectable sociopaths are from other people in society.

At times the words were stilted. I’m not going to criticise the story for this, because the edition I read had been translated from Dutch to English, but I believe The Dinner would read better in the original language. I found the first half of the story, Aperitif and Appetizer slow (and the food itself disappointing), but by the time I got to the Main Course and Dessert of The Dinner I couldn’t read quickly enough to find out how things would work out.

The Dinner left me feeling uncomfortable. I would go back for another serving from this author though.

 

 

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