Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

My introduction to Herman Koch came when a friend thrust his earlier novel The Dinner at me, saying, ‘You HAVE to read this – I NEED to talk to someone about it.’ Since reading that bestseller, I’ve been recommending it to both individuals and book groups as a great discussion starter and a great example of an unreliable narrator.

Summer House with Swimming Pool is another compelling read in which Koch cleverly manipulates the reader. The story is narrated by Marc Schlosser, a GP in central Amsterdam. He tells us how he allows each patient a generous twenty-minute timeslot, purely for the illusion that they are being listened to and serviced with care. But as Marc explicitly details, he is disgusted by humans and their bodies: by their orifices, needs and emissions. In this way, the book becomes very much about Marc’s negative preoccupation with bodies, and sets a discomfiting tone.

Marc has an imminent date with the medical board over the death of one of his patients. Not just any patient, but a famous Dutch actor – an actor with whom Marc and his family spent a summer holiday. The story returns to that summer and explores the dynamics between Marc, his wife and two adolescent daughters, and the family of actor Ralph Meier – his wife Judith and two teenage sons. The puzzle for the reader is how the events of that summer, the death of Ralph Meier and the accusation of medical negligence, are linked.

My only criticism of this novel is its length – there was a lot of ‘setting the scene’ that was unnecessary for both the plot and an intelligent reader. However, I did appreciate being kept guessing right until the end.

Annie Condon