At the beginning of this tense and compelling novel, we discover that Marc Schlosser, whose attitude towards his patients is ambivalent at best, is about to face The Board of Medical Examiners on a charge of malpractice. Ralph Meier, a larger-than-life actor, who had previously consulted Marc, has now died, and his wife Judith is convinced Marc is responsible. The rest of the book goes back in time and recounts the story of the fateful summer that preceded Meier’s death. I’m not going to say any more about the plot, as even giving a few details away can take away from the rising suspense that Koch so skilfully maintains during this page-turner of a novel.
I found this a totally absorbing and deeply discomfiting book, covering as it does so many controversial issues – celebrity, the sexualisation of young girls, ethics and morality, responsibility, betrayal – the list goes on. Koch seems to have a very jaundiced outlook on life. None of his characters are likeable, but my goodness, aren’t they interesting and disturbing. In fact this whole book is disturbing, and it’s one that I found hard to put down. Expertly paced, with morally questionable characters and some dark and unsettling scenes, this is no light read, but one that lingers in the mind long after the last page.
on 20 April 2015
Last year I reviewed 'The Dinner' by the same author. My final comment was that it left me with a chill. And my first comment here is that this one is equally chilling. There weren't many nice characters in 'The Dinner' and there aren't actually any in this novel. It is almost as if the author was trying things out in the first one, refining his technique, before he launched this attractive bunch of people on us!
This is a much bigger book than 'The Dinner', with a bigger story to tell. Dr Marc Schlosser is a doctor, just a regular general practitioner, but due to his generous prescribing has become a 'go to' doctor for those who move in desirable social circles. One day, one of his patients, Ralph Meier, a well known actor, dies in slightly mysterious circumstances, and so begins the story of how this death came about. Is it a case of medical mismanagement and error, or has the highly regarded Dr Schlosser commited a murder.
Marc, who narrates the story, thinks he is a good doctor. He gives lots of time to his patients and always prescribes at least one form of medication, so they think he is wonderful. But in the first few pages, he is brutally honest with the reader, as to what he really thinks of his wealthy and connected patients, and the work he does. And yet he finds it very diffcult to pull himself away from the world of his patients. He and his wife, Caroline, and their two young teenage daughters Julia and Lisa, are invited to spend some of the summer with Ralph, his wife Judith and their two teenage sons at the latters' summer house. Against his better judgement as Ralph has made his lust for Caroline very clear, Marc talks his wife into going, mainly because he, in turn, fancies Judith. You can see it is going to get very messy. But it is not only the grownups who become unhinged; thirteen year old Julia ends up at the centre of the crisis surrounding the death of Ralph.
The machinations and little power games that go on as everyone is trying to cover their tracks, as new evidence and secrets are disclosed is brilliantly and cunningly done. I actually started to feel a little sorry for Marc. Despite his awfulness, he does love his daughters very much, and like any father, wants to avenge the wrong that has been done. Btu all these people are such screw ups, that it is hardly surprising it does all go wrong.
This is great writing, a riveting page turner of a thriller. Despite all the characters being inherently unlikeable, there is some humanity in all of them. How clever is it to be able to write like that! Marc, the doctor character the writer has created is a monster and I am relieved some time has passed since reading this before I have to visit my doctor again! But it is so carefully crafted, and like any good psychological thriller, the reader/viewer is constantly drawn back to the scariest character who appears to be so amazingly normal. Not....
After reading Herman Koch's previous book, 'The Dinner', I was prepared for most anything, and that is exactly what I got. It is difficult to say whether I liked the book or not. It is one of those books I could not put down, but also difficult to continue reading. The characters are often so despicable, and then there is a character, a teenager, who is in such pain, that your heart goes out to her.
Dr. Marc Schlosser, a General Practitioner, is a physician who should have left his profession years ago. He lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two girls. Much of this novel revolves around his distaste for his patients. He gives them 20 mins, does minimal exams, let's them talk and sends them on their way. His clinic is overflowing, and it must be that he dislikes everyone the same, so everyone is treated with the same disdain. One patient is a famous actor Ralph Meier. Ralph invites Marc and his wife to the theatre,which is usually something the good doctor hates. But for some reason he agrees, and the rest of their lives will never be the same.
As the book opens we learn Ralph Meier has died, and the good doctor is thought responsible. He faces a hearing of the medical board. As we learn the back story, the ugliness of the lives of Ralph and the good doctor come to the fore. The people surrounding them, other than their wives and children, are so abhorrent that I began to wonder, what is this and why do I care. But I found myself reading and could not stop. The author, Herman Koch, gave us a surprise ending and we find another one here. The choices we make, and the consequences we find, bring us to the reality of this story. 'Hot Needle In An Eyeball' is not just a simile it is a reality.
Recommended. prisrob 06-12-14
on 4 June 2014
When five years ago Herman Koch wrote `Dinner' I remember it was one of those novels that you take and do not stop reading until you get (too early) to the last page. Incredible characters, great plot, unexpected end. These days I felt the same after I read his new novel `Summer House with Swimming Pool'.
Indeed it could be said that it comes to a style that we may one day call `Koch style' because he manages to create primarily his leading characters in some special way that although we actually see them as repulsive, we cannot stop wondering what was going to happen with them, turning the pages in order to find out how the story will unravel.
The main character Dr. Marc Schlosser, is kind of physician you probably would not want to get into his office, let alone wanted to treat you. Time spent with his patients usually he sees as lost and boring, while many times he is disgusted by their problems and illnesses. He lives with his wife Caroline and their two daughters, Lisa who is eleven and Julia thirteen years old, which are beautiful girls loved by both parents.
One day, a famous actor Ralph Meier will become Marc's patient, treating him for fatigue, not wasting too much time on real medical examination. When Marc and Caroline will attend the opening of Shakespeare play in which Ralph acts, and after they two will meet Ralph's wife Judith who will be liked much by Marc that would start their meetings outside Marc's medical office.
Judith and Ralph will invite Marc and Caroline to the summer house they are renting and there they will also meet known US movie director Stanley Forbes and his young girlfriend, Emmanuelle.
Soon lot of crazy things will start to happen, Ralph will be revealed as a person who has a great variety of desires, even related to young Marc's daughters, and when two Ralph's sons appear, summer full of intrigue, sex and satisfaction of all possible needs will begin.
Though some unexpected things will happen and tragedy could not be avoided...
Koch's writing, addiction which he manages to awaken in the reader and especially the above mentioned characterization make his work impossible to put down, introducing reader from the start deep in the story, not letting go until the last page.
And though it's difficult to compare, because I really like his previous novel much, `Summer House with Swimming Pool' is though perhaps a little bit better; therefore recommendations firstly to all previous Koch fans, but also to all those people who will become ones when they read one or the other novel of this great writer.
Marc Schlosser is a General Practitioner in Holland, where he lives with his wife Judith and daughters Julia and Lisa. Marc is presented as a very unsympathetic character - despite dealing on a daily basis with people, he is disgusted by their bodies and the physical contact he needs to have with his patients. Most of his patients are those who work in the arts - writers, comedians, television personalities and actors. One of those is Ralph Meier, a large and imposing theatre actor with a huge personality to match his girth. Before long, the family doctor has been invited to one of Meier's opening nights; such invitations are tortuous to him (as someone who ranks going to the cinema/theatre as one of their least favourite things to do, I sympathised) and his recitations of time passing so slowly during a performance or his distaste of his patients may be cruel, but are also darkly humorous.
The novel begins with the revelation that Meier has suffered some kind of medical negligence, of which Marc Schlosser stands accused. As he prepares to face the findings of the Board of Medical Examiners, the book takes us through the summer when Marc and his family spend time with Ralph Meier, at their summer house - with, of course, a pool. Ralph is there with wife Caroline, her mother, and his sons Alex and Thomas, plus the sharp talking Stanley, who is attempting to involve Ralph in a Hollywood mini-series, and his much younger girlfriend, Emmmanuelle. There are all kinds of personal attractions and relationships going on and the visit - and summer - culminates in a tragic event, which indirectly results in the case being built against Marc.
I have read, and loved, The Dinner and I imagine that this novel will cause as much controversy as that book did. In fact, if you did read The Dinner and disliked it, then I wouldn't even bother picking this up - you probably won't like it. If, however, you did enjoy it, then I think you will find this a riveting read. It addresses a lot of issues which will make people feel uncomfortable, including Marc's attitudes, the sexuality of young girls and the way some men view women. Personally, I don't necessarily need to like the characters in a book to enjoy the story, and, in an odd way, you do warm to Marc. More importantly, this author writes wonderfully well and he knows how to tell a story and keep you turning pages. At all times he is in control of the storyline, characters and you know what Marc is feeling and how he responds. If you do pick this book up, then don't expect to put it down until you have finished it; you will really need to know how what happens to the characters involved. It is also a brilliant read for book groups, with much to discuss and is bound to polarise opinions and get people talking - as good literature should.
I received a copy of this book from the publishers, via NetGalley, for review purposes.
on 21 January 2015
Herman Koch deserves a wider audience. Although translated from Dutch the writing remains tight, clear and sharp. The story moves along at the same pace, opening with some disturbing events that set in motion a set of reader preconceptions that are ultimately challenged.
It is the story of a disaffected GP who is at that point in life where his life is settled but he doesn't feel satisfied. He takes his family on holiday, something catastrophic happens and the remainder of the book deals with how he comes to terms with that - and finds his own solution to the moral dilemma it throws up. The story structure may not be earth shattering but it is what Koch does with the themes and ideas thrown up that makes this book so good. Put simply: it does what a good book should, it makes you think.
The Dinner was a genuinely different read, one that challenged your preconceptions. In many ways I feel this is a better book: there are the same themes of moral dilemma but the book is not as constrained by its premis in the same was as The Dinner. The characters are free to move around the world and consequently the book is literally and emotionally more wide ranging.
If the book has any fault it is perhaps that the 2nd tier characters are less fully drawn than you might expect. Koch is very strong in the central idea, and draws the main protagonists well, but the other characters do end up feel a little hazy and slightly anodyn. But it is a small criticism that doesn't detract from the main aim of the book, to challenge preconceptions.
I read this book straight after Gone Girl, which in some ways tries to perform the same trick of challenging preconceptions and assessing morality. Gone Girl has collected thousands of reviews, endless plaudits and been turned into a film. By contrast this book has an overall lower rating, a handful of reviews and isn't being made into a film. But it is better in every possible way - better written, better story, better evaluation of its themes, better ending.
I rarely give books five stars but this one wholly deserves it. Take a chance and try it.
Summer House With Swimming Pool is the seventh novel by Dutch actor, television and radio producer, newspaper columnist and author, Herman Koch, and the second book to be translated into English. Dr Marc Schlosser, a General Physician whose patients appreciate the time he takes with them, is summoned to appear before the Board of Medical Examiners. One of his patients, celebrity actor Ralph Meier, has died, and a question hangs over his medical management. Some eighteen months earlier, Marc, his wife and two daughters spent a week at a Mediterranean summer house with Meier’s family, an ageing Hollywood director and his very young girlfriend. Most of Marc’s narration is spent recounting, in hindsight, the events of that vacation that led to a shocking climax, and its aftermath. Koch so cleverly crafts his story that the reader is left wondering exactly what crimes or misdeeds were committed during that summer interlude, and by whom. While Marc’s narration is entirely reliable, it is, of course, wholly biased, and it is equally apparent that others who contribute to the account of events have their own agendas. Many of the characters are easy to find loathsome or obnoxious and none is quite what they first seem to be. Marc demonstrates an ability to shift priorities and abandon responsibility with breath-taking ease, as well as a cold, calculating nature, which makes his actions seem thoroughly plausible. Koch’s novel touches on the Dutch medical system, paedophiles, what is appropriate treatment of sexual deviants, justice, revenge and taking the law into one’s own hands. It is a given that we cannot know mere acquaintances to any significant degree, but Koch’s novel will have the reader questioning just how well we can truly know those really close to us: our children, our parents and our spouses. Koch gives the reader some marvellously descriptive prose (his depiction of abscesses and tumours is particularly imaginative) and he inserts some moments of sharp (and occasionally quite dark) humour to relieve the building tension. Female readers will be grateful that not all men are this shallow and most readers will hope their doctor is not this cynical. This thought-provoking, powerful, and compelling read is flawlessly translated by Sam Garrett. A brilliant novel that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.
A great follow-up to The Dinner. But where that book managed to make points about society by making us loathe characters and their actions, this novel doesn't seem to have as far a reach.
That's not to say it's not as good, it's just a different beast. Again, we are encouraged to examine our feelings about a main character and change them as his narration and actions lead us to change our impressions.
Dr Marc Schlosser is a Dutch GP (General Practitioner). One who pretty much loathes both the human body and his exclusive patients, who number the famous, the hypochondriacal, the obese, and those who don't want a diagnosis, only a prescription and a friendly ear. We learn early on that Marc is about to be brought before the Medical Council charged with negligence towards a celebrity patient.
At which point in time, he takes us back to before it happened, to his family's summer holiday in which much will be revealed about himself, his friends, and what led to the charges.
After a knockout opening chapter of doctorly loathing and disgust (which I loved), I did start to wonder where the story was going. The buildup on holiday is very long and doesn't seem to be connected to the accusations of the beginning. But eventually - bam - yes, you can see where the book is going.
Marc's actions are shocking, outrageous, understandable, sociopathic, human, take your pick.
It's a read in many ways like Koch's first. Initial impressions are discarded, human emotions as behaviours are examined, our worse sides are allowed out to air.
Blackly funny, with some delicious narration from Marc, it's definitely worth a read if you like thinking about the darker qualities that make is human.
Review of a Netgalley advance copy.
This book is written as being the protagonist's thought processes. The dialogue is either reported speech or indirect. It is a diary of the events surrounding the death of one of the patients of a cynical and/or jaded General Practitioner. It is very well written. Despite its elegant style eventually I was left wondering if the author was being paid by the word. While "inside his head" was convincingly delivered, so were all the internal distractions and asides that accompany most peoples' thoughts, so the journey/plot became discursive and fairly soon into the book, despite my best intentions and several re-starts I lost the desire to see it though to the end.
It was a long time before the plot device emerged and I could see the potential. However the style was not for me. Despite my lack of engagement I can see that this is a good book for those more engaged by literary style than am I. YMMV
I was left with the impression that had the book been more tightly focused on the plot it would have been really good but then
My goodness, Herman Koch cheerfully uses his razor sharp pen to slice open and bloodlet all the things we dare not say, and perhaps dare not think. Both women and men who are more thoughtful and separated from their caveman past may find themselves gasping in some sort of horror - and also, perhaps, barking with guilty laughter.
Marc Schlosser, the central character of Koch's book, (translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett) is a doctor who once had rather noble ideals, but now has a clientele of the wealthy or famous, whom he pretty much despises. They come to him with their concerns about their failing sexual performance and allure, their fears about cancers in unspeakable parts of their anatomy, and at times for the under the counter dispensing of medicines which will enable them to party hard as they did in their youth, or to shuffle off this mortal. But most of all, they come to him not because he is in any way a better doctor (he knows he isn't) but because he gives them a 20 minute session instead of a shorter session.
"Patients can't tell the difference between time and attention. They think I give them more attention than other doctors. But all I give them is more time. By the end of the first sixty seconds I've seen all I need to know. The remaining nineteen minutes I fill with attention. Or, I should say, with the illusion of attention"
Married (happily) to Caroline, with two daughters, Julia, who is a budding nymphette, and pre-pubescent Lisa, Schlosser is absolutely not above seducing other women. He blithely tells his female and male readers, that, sorry, this is all the drive of biology. However (and he again will excuse this via biology) he is also a hypocrite. One of his patients is a famous actor, Ralph Meier. He despises Meier, a grossly overweight and disgustingly, overtly lecherous individual, but really begins to hate him when Meier makes an offensive and public pass at Caroline, at a first night party. Caroline thinks Meier is pretty loathsome too. Which is why it is rather surprising that Schlosser accepts an invitation to visit (with his wife and his daughters, naturally) Meier and his wife in their holiday home - that `summer house with swimming pool' Caroline can't understand why, as Marc finds Meier pretty disgusting, and she also finds him pretty disgusting, the invitation has been accepted by Meier, who goes out of his way to arrange holiday plans so that they will be `in the area' and turn an informal invitation, formal.
Marc, without any shame, lets the reader know (first person narrative) that he has designs for a bit of nookie with Judith Meier, in the same breath that he is castigating Meier for his unbridled and offensive lechery. The only difference between the two is that Schlosser is a subtle seducer, not an indiscriminate grabber and fondler of female flesh. Rather, he seduces, like he doctors, providing an illusion of paying attention
So far, so wickedly funny and offensive, mixed together. Things rapidly turn very much darker on that holiday, however, and humour, for the most part, gets left behind. Schlosser will come to suspect that Meier, with the collusion of his family and friends, have been responsible for causing hideous harm and ruining lives. And he will seek to exact a terrible, undetectable revenge.
Told by mixture of flashbacks and flash forwards to the present, the book opens with Meier about to face a reckoning of sorts.
I stayed hooked nearly all the way to the end, but the resumption of a fairly crass bit of humour, and a `hell hath no fury' proverb wriggle out wrap (sorry, can't say more, spoiler alert, but those who have read the book will know what I mean) felt inauthentic and lazy.
Enjoyed a lot, lost a star for the last 20 odd pages.