By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Herman Koch
Format: Hardcover, 394 pages
Pub Date: June 3, 2014
Summary from Publisher:
When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high-profile doctor to the stars, Marc can’t hide from the truth forever.
It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by Ralph and his striking wife Judith, her mother, and film director Stanley Forbes and his much younger girlfriend, the large group settles in for days of sunshine, wine tasting, and trips to the beach. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.
– From Chapters-Indigo website
Book Review by Zara
from The Bibliotaphe Closet:
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch is a dark, family drama that centers its story around the events that take place during a hesitant, yet preplanned family vacation between Dr. Marc Schlosser, his striking wife, Caroline, and their two lovely daughters, Julia and Lisa, with newly made friends: a famous actor, Ralph Meier, and his attractive wife, Judith, a successful film director, Stanley Forbes, and his young and pretty girlfriend, Emmanuelle, at the Meier’s summer home on the Mediterranean.
The strength of this novel is largely based on the pessimistic realism voiced in the first-person narrative by its main character, Marc Schlosser, who in his brutal honesty entices the reader into a relationship of interest and trust, as well as infuse the novel with a dark humour and a surprising psychological insight into the thoughts of a general male practitioner in the medical field. While doctors are held accountable by the Hippocratic Oath they take as healthcare professionals, what’s eerily disturbing about the reader’s discovery while delving deeper into the novel is the nature in which Dr. Marc Schlosser’s logic and discernment stems from a complete lack of integrity for the oath which he and other doctors are bound to by ethical and moral standards. While this seems on the surface, uncomfortably funny, the underside of this kind of psychology is quite terrifying. It begs the fearful question posed by vulnerable patients—“Is this what my doctor really thinks about?”
While the novel isn’t as largely character-driven as other books, readers get enough of a glimpse of personality through the book’s plot and dialogue. The characters themselves aren’t nearly as substantial as I would like as a reader, but the dialogue in the book is excellently convincing, which helps to make the book extremely readable.
Characters like Caroline, Marc’s trusting wife, is a camping enthusiast, the obvious worrier between both parents, and deemed the more natural disciplinarian towards their two young daughters, Julia and Lisa. Caroline is also physically attractive, enough to unintentionally claim the voyeuristic attention of the famous actor and new friend, Ralph Meier.
Judith, on the other hand, Ralph’s wife, while seemingly more uptight in the way she believes her household should be run, or how her husband and children should act, is surprisingly more open when it comes to her beliefs on monogamy.
And while Ralph is the most gregarious character in the novel, a man who doesn’t shy away from openly objectifying women, he is sexually confident and open as he is considered naturally extroverted and charming.
Stanley, a well-known film director is overly confident about his influential power and is able to easily woo a young girl nearly 35 years his junior into being his partner. His confidence, too, reveals his tendency for aggression, hypocrisy, and perversion when faced with getting what he desires.
Like most of Koch’s work, his characters usually appear to be quite different than they actually are and reveal themselves to be deeply flawed when faced with serious conflict.
While the plot is not as harsh or as controversial as his previous novel, The Dinner, its internal dialogue reveals a dark and disturbing truth, one that explores the lengths in which someone is willing to go in harming another person in retribution. Koch’s works are compelling in that his plots together with his dialogue and narrative, work together to provoke his readers into shock, even repulsion at the lack of at least one of his character’s empathy and ethical compass.
And while readers may tend to judge one character over another, in Koch’s work, the true culprit is usually the one readers believe to be the least guilty.
And what is most surprising about the plot is the cause of one of the character’s call to violence when readers may be led to believe the source to be quite different. This is what makes this novel not only readable, but interesting.
But, the novel does not only question the ethical motives of its characters, it also in its intelligent way, undermines the presumptions of its readers and poses even broader questions:
- What is worse—the doctor with a poor bedside manner, but ethical standards who cares deeply about the welfare of his/her patients?
- Or the doctor who is superficially social and understanding, yet a hypocrite, and could care less about the health and care of his/her patients?
- Who is worse—the man who openly and lustfully looks at a woman and/or a number of different women, or the man who commits adultery?
- Who’s more at fault when a sexual conflict arises? The sexual predator or the seducer?
- Who is worse—the rapist or the murderer?
- What are the boundaries of family? Friendship? Forgiveness? Revenge?
Summer House with Swimming Pool is a book that exemplifies how the judgement of another can be made far worse when a sobering look at oneself is dismissed entirely, and how a bad and misinformed attitude can only lead to even worse choices—ones that can undoubtedly, if unchecked, bring about the most harm.
This book at most is a testimony to passion running amuck and pride racing itself to dangerous power, one that escalates into violence and deception—a vacation most parties would rather blot out of their itinerary altogether.
Its dark humour will bring you at odds with your own presumptions. The calculated, immoral precision of one of its characters will terrify you—and may warn you against the danger of how taking one small step in the wrong direction can lead you quite quickly into a number of steps that delve you right into the quicksand of immorality.
And unfortunately, there is no such doctor, nor prescription that can save anyone that suffers that affliction. At least, not in this novel anyway.
As for me, I’m best reminded to mind who I decide to become friends with, which vacation I should or should not plan nor participate in—and when visiting my family physician for a serious ailment, ensure I’m wise enough to get a second opinion.
Characters: 3.5 stars
Plot: 3.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 4 stars
Dialogue: 4 stars
Pacing: 3.5 stars
Cover Design: 3.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Hogarth for providing me with a copy of Summer House with Swimming Pool in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Herman Koch is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories. The Dinner, his sixth novel, has been published in 25 countries and was an international bestseller. He currently lives in Amsterdam.
– From bio found in novel.
You can learn more about Herman Koch on Wikipedia.
You can become Herman Koch’s fan on Goodreads.
Have you read any of Herman Koch’s novels? If so, what do you enjoy the most about them?
How wise is it, do you think, a family should go on vacation with newly made friends?
Do you ever wonder what your own family physician really thinks when you visit him or her?
How far do you think people should go in protecting their family?
Is revenge ever the right answer? If so, when? And who decides?
Answer one of the questions I provided in my review.