Another Offbeat Thriller by Herman Koch

Summer House with Swimming Pool

By Herman Koch

Koch’s bestseller The Dinner was a chilling exploration of evil and myopic thinking. He repeated the feat with more chilling effect, if that’s even possible.

This this Koch outing, Dr. Marc Schlosser occupies a snug little niche in the Netherlands’ socialized health system as a family physician who specializes in people in the arts. It’s not that he likes the arts, his patients, or even the human race, apart, it seems, from his wife and two young daughters. It’s that he has a routine, a method for passing the day, playing the health odds, and looking down on everybody who parades their illnesses and phobias before him. In short, you’re not going to like Marc one bit. And yet, you’re going to find him so compelling, you’ll hang on his words—not believing him, necessarily, but listening raptly. While you’ll think Marc is certainly odious, you’ll probably judge him less so than the people he and his family spend a summer vacation with.

There’s the actor, Ralph, a big, burly fellow, married with two sons, who drools over women, regardless of their tender ages. Judith, his wife, yearns for something a little different, like a doctor. Stanley, the director, who vacations with them, also has an eye for very young women; his girlfriend of the moment, Emmanuelle, might be all of 17, just three years older than Marc’s eldest, Julia.

From the very beginning, we know something bad happened involving Ralph, and that Marc has taken his revenge on Ralph, a pyrrhic reckoning. What occasioned Marc’s action unrolls slowly, as Marc treats us to his viewpoints on myriad items and shares the thinking of his mentor Professor Herzl. What can you say about the good professor, except that his reductive view of life will drive many readers up and down a wall for different reasons. Let’s simply say if he and Darwin where attending the same lecture, Darwin would seat himself clear across the room.

What Marc does in response to what he suspects Ralph did is morally wrong, at least by most people’s understanding of morality. How Marc compounds his action and his reaction when affairs take a decidedly unexpected turn prove even more unsettling.

Koch writes compellingly, to the point where inaccuracies seem perfectly acceptable, as you devour pages to the end. It would be a perfect Spring Vacation book if it were less agitating and more relaxing. But then that wouldn’t be Koch, now would it? w/c

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