I’m a fan of Herman Koch’s writing after reading The Dinner, and his new book Summer House with Swimming Pool did not disappoint. It lived up to Koch’s style of drawing the reader in, then exposing the main characters’ flaws and the lengths they will go to to avoid being held responsible for their actions. Even if that means committing unlawful acts, which they then justify as serving a higher purpose.
Generally the focus in Koch’s books is on the gentrified middle class, which in many ways makes these acts more shocking, less acceptable because they are educated, well-to-do people who know better but their sense of entitlement and arrogance gets in the way and they succumb to committing horrible acts against others, or covering them up. Koch’s characters are so real that they trigger intense reactions – discomfort, indignation and even outrage. It makes for some excellent reading.
Summer House with Swimming Pool revolves around the sudden death of famous actor, Ralph Meier, and if his high profile doctor, Marc Schlosser was involved in his patient’s demise. Ralph and Marc knew each other outside of doctor/patient parameters: Marc, his wife and two teenage daughters spent the previous summer with the Meiers at their summer house in the Mediterranean. During that holiday personal boundaries are crossed, the relaxed atmosphere generates a relaxing of morals, and a violent incident triggers suspicion, blame and the desire for revenge.
Summer House with Swimming Pool is written with precision and sharp cutting insights into narrator, Dr Marc Schlosser’s detached and oft scornful view of his patients and the people around him. The writing is well sculpted and slices away any pretence. From Mark’s perspective the patient is reduced down to bodily form, in all its naked sick ugliness, that he loathes to touch, but has no qualms with issuing drugs when asked. (I’ll never look at a standard doctor’s appointment the same way again.)
The tension builds slowly in this book, winding and twisting with psychological angst, and just when you think you have the answer to who did what, you turn the page to find out you’re wrong. Overall, a kicker of a psychological thriller, with the quick pace of a holiday read, and tied together by some truly great literary writing.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (Text Publishing 2014)
Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett