Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Opening sentence: ‘I am a doctor.’
Dr. Marc Schlosser is an intriguingly complex character. He has a mix of traits that, although don’t make him likeable, work together to create a compelling man with a definite realistic edge. We are introduced to him as he tells us how bored he is of his patients, he diagnoses them in 60 seconds, then tunes them out for the rest of their 20-min appointment. We, the reader, initially draw a conclusion that he is a cold, selfish character. However, we also see a side of him that loves his family life and would do anything for his daughters then, in a flash, he is cunning, shrewd, perceptive, and using these skills to manipulate situations.
Most disturbingly, he has daydreams about morbid things happening to people he doesn’t like, “I looked at the big toe and its doomed nail. There was no stopping now. I thought about a hammer. Not the hammer Caroline and I had used to drive the tent stakes into the ground. That was a soft hammer. A hammer with give. You couldn’t do much damage with a rounded rubber hammer like that. No, a real hammer was what was needed. An iron hammer that would pulverise the brittle toenail with one well-aimed blow.”
The every-so-often reference to Marc’s more malevolent thoughts means that there is a dark and sinister edge pulsing along in the background of every page. You’re never sure where the story will go, what Marc will actually take from his fantasy into reality. It’s not just Marc, Koch is good at setting up the ambiguous nature of most of his characters, so you’re never sure who to trust, which ups the suspense level brilliantly.
Told from Marc’s point-of-view, his patient, the actor Ralph Meier invites Marc, his wife Caroline and daughters Lisa and Julia to his summer house, to stay with him and his family – wife Judith and sons Alex and Thomas, along with the Hollywood director Stanley and his much younger girlfriend, Emmanuelle. The story centres around events that happen to Marc’s teenage daughter, Julia, on the beach one night and how far he will go to get justice for her.
I did whizz through this book, it was very easy to read and I liked the pockets of dark humour that popped up every so often. Marc was a compelling character and the story kept me hooked, but I felt a little let down by its abrupt conclusion, a few more chapters could have rounded off the story more satisfactorily.