Monday, 24 August 2015



Pages: 380
Date: August 24, 2015
Details: Read in the original Dutch
            Reading Group Read for August
Own / Paperback

The blurb:

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 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 teenage daughters spend a week at the Meier’s summer home on the Mediterranean with Ralph, his wife and mother-in-law, and film director Stanley Forbes and his girlfriend. They quickly settle 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. 

My thoughts:

Okay, I’m very, let me stress that, very ambivalent about this book. There is no doubt Herman Koch knows how to write and how to tell a compelling story. However, now that I’ve read two of his books I’m fairly certain I won’t be picking up another book by him. Because what he writes so very well are despicable characters in nasty situations. This book, more than The Dinner, made me feel dirty and had me yearning for the end long before I reached the halfway point. And, I’m not sure I would have kept on reading if it hadn’t been for the fact that both books by Koch will be discussed in my book club next Thursday and I happen to be in charge of that group.

Dr. Marc Schlosser is one of the least sympathetic characters I’ve ever encountered in a book. He’s a careless doctor, indifferent to his patients; he judges people based on standing and appearance and doesn’t appear to know the meaning of the word compassion, while double standards seem to be his trademark. And every time you think you may have found a redeeming quality he almost instantly ruins that impression. Just when you think he may actually care for his children you discover he’d rather have his oldest daughter eat dangerously little than risk her gaining weight. And that is after he’s told us that having two daughters is a huge disappointment because every parent prefers to have at least one son. Furthermore, these are probably the least of his faults. Naming others would probably give too much of the story away, so I’ll stop myself here.

I do not look for perfect characters in my books. In fact, I like it when they are flawed and do things that make me raise my eyebrows, frown and shake my head. But I don’t want them to be horrible either. Characters should be recognisable and show a realistic balance of good and bad, nice and nasty, loveable and hateful. Dr. Marc Schlosser was about 90% nasty. He’s small minded, full of himself, judgmental and utterly selfish. In fact, I’d be hard pushed to name even one redeeming quality. And since the whole story is told in his voice and from his perspective we get all his nastiness in all its horrifying glory.

It is possible the book was meant to be read as a cynical joke; an indictment of humanity in general or men specifically. If that’s the case it failed to convince me. If the main character had been mirrored by a more humane secondary, male, character I would have been able to accept that the author might be trying to convey a message. As it is, every single man in this book comes across as a pig, a predator always trying to restrain his baser urges and failing more often than not. Even if that is in fact true (which I do not believe) I still wouldn’t want to read about it.

If this book had been written by a woman the author would have been accused of being a man-hater except that the women in this book aren’t shown in a much better light than the men. The only difference, as far as I could tell, was that while the men were described as vile, the women were portrait as almost vacuous. This book was nothing more and nothing less than an almost gloating portrayal of the worst men has to offer. It is possible some readers enjoy that, I do not. By the time I finished reading my predominant thought was that if this is how Dutch men think and behave (which I don’t believe) I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

So, if I had to summarize the rant I just wrote I’d say this is a well written but horrible story. This is the sort of book you want to read with your eyes and mind closed. A little bit of mind bleach afterwards wouldn’t go amiss either.