Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

In brief: Marc, a family doctor, is in trouble. Were his actions simply negligence, or something more sinister as a result of a summer vacation gone wrong?

The good: There are shocking moments and plenty of discussion points for book clubs.

The not-so-good: I found this book very slow to start and some of Marc’s thoughts hard to stomach.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Crown Publishing for the eBook – I thought I’d give Mr Koch another go, after reading The Dinner.

Year: 2014 (in English, translator Sam Garrett)

Pages: 400

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Setting: Holland and an unnamed foreign country

My rating: 5.5 out of 10

Like a lot of other people, I read The Dinner some time ago. While I didn’t love it, it was interesting and an excellent book for discussion (and argument) for book clubs. When I saw Herman Koch had a new book translated into English being released, I thought I might like this one better. Summer House with Swimming Pool is about a GP (family physician) who has made a fatal mistake and is being brought up before the medical board. How did things come to this? What did happen last summer – and did Marc really make a mistake?

The book opens with Marc discussing what he thinks about when he’s seeing patients – it’s not particularly pretty, and it’s really not what you hope your GP is thinking about during your consultation (naturally, it was at this point that I was discussing my Kindle with my GP – embarrassment central!). Already, we’re starting to get an idea Marc is not your typical kind-hearted doctor…he doesn’t appear to like his patients or what he does. He does seem to like his status in society and that his patients give him tickets to gallery openings and plays. It’s here that Ralph Meier is introduced to us. He’s an actor of some renown, mainly in theatre. However, he’s got a new role in TV series which is going to be BIG. Unfortunately, Ralph becomes sick and eventually dies (choosing euthanasia). Marc is told by Judith (Ralph’s wife) that he’s a murderer. By accident or design?

The narrative then moves back to a summer spent in another country where Marc and his family just ‘happen’ to meet up with Ralph and Judith. Their children hit it off, so it’s a natural progression for the family to camp in the grounds of the Meier family’s summer house (yes, it does have a swimming pool). Much time is spent by the adults drinking and smoking with the odd swim, but then things start to irk Marc. Why does Ralph get his gear off at the slightest of whims? Why does his daughter insinuate that Ralph has pulled down her bikini bottoms? Marc’s getting very suspicious of Ralph and things come to a head when they start chatting up a few young ladies. That part of the night ends badly, but there’s much worse to come when something happens to Marc’s daughter. Who is responsible? Is Marc right in taking matters into his own hands?

I found Summer House with Swimming Pool quite slow to start – Marc’s observations on his patients were initially just creepy but as the novel went on, I found them difficult to stomach. I didn’t like Marc as a character (in fact, the majority of the characters in this book are distinctly unlikeable) and I felt there just wasn’t something right with him. As for doing what he did – I could see where he was coming from as a father, but as a doctor, it’s plain unprofessional. I didn’t like how Ralph’s illness was only alluded to, as I thought this watered down what Marc did and I was unsure if I should be sympathetic towards the Meiers (even though Ralph is quite sexist and strange). I also found some of the dialogue stilted – whether that’s because of the translation or to emphasise Marc’s oddness, I don’t know.

I think I’ve done my dash when Herman Koch. While this book will generate discussion, I just don’t have the inclination to read about moral and ethical dilemmas over and over, particularly when I thought there was a clear-cut answer and the characters are not worth the argument. This book left me craving something with a happy ending, as it’s devoid of positivity.


One thought on “Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Add yours

  1. I read this, too.

    The first 220 or so pages of this book bored me terribly. After about 220 pages, while I wasn’t bored to tears, I still wasn’t pleased. So I guess we have the same opinion there.

    Marc isn’t just unlikeable; he’s detestable. But his character isn’t what makes me dislike this book. It is the author’s fault. He didn’t stick with the story. Most of the book involves having Marc think about other things. Ho hum.

    Koch could have at least cleared things up in the second half. Instead,I’m more confused. Why did he bring up so many different points but go nowhere with most of them? What was the point? And maybe most connfusing: the end.

    I don’t do well with translations.

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