Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

From Goodreads:
When a medical mistake goes horribly wrong and Ralph Meier, a famous actor, winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser is forced to conceal the error from his patients and family. After all, reputation is everything in this business. But the weight of carrying such a secret lies heavily on his mind, and he can't keep hiding from the truth…or the Board of Medical Examiners.

The problem is that the real truth is a bit worse than a simple slipup. Marc played a role in Ralph's death, and he's not exactly upset that the man is gone. Still haunted by a crime committed during their stay at Ralph's extravagant Mediterranean summerhouse - one they shared with Ralph and his enticing wife, Judith, film director Stanley Forbes and his far younger girlfriend, Emmanuelle, and Judith's mother - Marc has had it on his mind that the perpetrator of the crime could be either Ralph or Stanley. Stanley's guilt seems obvious, bearing in mind his uncomfortable fixation on the prospect of Marc's daughter's fashion career, but Marc's reasons for wanting Ralph dead become increasingly compelling as events unravel. There is damning evidence against Marc, but he isn't alone in his loathing of the star-studded director.
Writing
I think it's safe to say that Koch has been added to my list of automatic reads.  He also rivals Gillian Flynn for creation of loathesome characters.  We're not even talking characters you love to hate.  These are just people you hate.  That said, they're amazing.  I'm such a fan of his writing and the places he takes you.  Our main character, Marc is just a truly terrible person.  And as much as you hate the crime that is committed against his family, you just can't sympathize with Marc.  I don't want to give too much away, but if you want some super complex feelings and emotions brought up, this is the book to provide that.  I love the ambiguity of the characters and how your feelings about them change and are challenged throughout the book.

Entertainment Value
Enthralling.  I won't say I was hooked from the first page - things get off to something of a slow start.  But once the story kicked off, I wasn't able to put it down.  It's more thoughtful than action-filled, but that doesn't make it any less intriguing.  It's definitely not a who-dunnit, although that is revealed by the end.  The point isn't really who committed the crime, the point is in the characters and the choices they make that lead to the crime and the culpability of all of the characters, not just the one who does the deed.

Overall
This isn't an easy book to read by any means.  It's very uncomfortable, both in terms of the actions taken by the characters and in terms of certain situations and events.  While there's no graphic violence or sex, the characters do things that will make you squirm.  And I think that's really the whole point of the book.  To challenge your ideas about culpability and blame and to make the reader face discomfort.  It's something I both enjoyed and was disturbed by, in a good way.  I'm anxious for someone else to read it so I can discuss it with another person.  If you're put off by books without likable characters and without tidy endings, this isn't for you.  But those who enjoyed The Dinner or dark authors like Gillian Flynn will definitely enjoy it.  If you read it, let me know because I am anxious to discuss.

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