Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in return for an honest review.
There seems to be an appetite amongst readers these days for books that deal with unlikeable narrators.
I’m not complaining. An imperfect, kind of horrible narrator makes for an interesting read. We were all introduced to Dutch author’s Herman Koch’s work through the terrifyingly brilliant The Dinner. Just in time for summer we have Summer House With Swimming Pool.
Marc is a doctor. His practice is mostly made up of artistic folks: writers, actors and artists who drink too much and visit him for prescriptions that will help with the side effects of drinking too much. He thinks he is better than his patients. When we first meet Marc, a patient of his, the famous actor Ralph Meier, has just died after a brief illness. Marc is supposed to go in front of the Medical Board because there is the possibility that there was some negligence that accelerated the illness.
As he ponders the possible decision of the Medical Board, he goes back through the last 18 months of his life – to the night when he and his wife went to an opening night of Ralph’s play; to the night of the first invitation to look in on them at their vacation home; to the night of the fireworks. Marc tells us how things came to be the way that they are, while waxing poetic about the foibles of men and women.
Like in The Dinner, the blanks of the present day are filled in with the narrator’s remembrances of days gone by. The characters are also cast in the same vein as Koch’s other book: I can’t think of one character that’s really likeable. And while I can’t say that I personally connected with any of the characters, I can say that I really enjoyed the ride.
There are so many twists and turns in this story. You think you have it figured out and you think that the rest of the book will just carry on in this same vein but Koch isn’t finished yet. I found that Marc’s relationship with the women in his life, his two daughters on the verge of womanhood, his wife Caroline who gets frustrated with his permanent role as the good guy, Ralph’s wife Judith who irritates and fascinates him equally, changes throughout the book. He has to decide what he’s going to be to each woman, how he’s going to react to the things that happen to them – will he act like society expects him to or will he give in to the animal instincts that his medical school professor was always going on about?
I really like Koch’s unapologetic style of writing. He seems to say “if you don’t like this, I don’t care. It’s my story.” And I agree that it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you can get into it, I personally think it’s a thought-provoking read that’s sure to start a discussion with fellow readers.