Thursday, March 12, 2015

Worst Vacation Ever = Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch


Title: Summer House with Swimming Pool
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: June 3, 2014 (English version)
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

When a medical mistake goes horribly wrong and Ralph Meier, a famous actor, winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser is forced to conceal the error from his patients and family. After all, reputation is everything in this business. But the weight of carrying such a secret lies heavily on his mind, and he can't keep hiding from the truth…or the Board of Medical Examiners.

The problem is that the real truth is a bit worse than a simple slipup. 


My Review:

There is a lot (LOT) more to the book description above if you look at the Goodreads link, but I didn't include it because I think it's SUPER SUPER spoilery.  And there are few things I dislike more than a spoilery book description!

If you've read The Dinner (Koch's other English-translated novel...review HERE), you likely suspect that this book is rather dark and unsettling.  And if so, you're 100% correct.  To paraphrase my thoughts on the other novel, I was impressed with the character development (none of them were quite what they seemed) but put off by the farfetched nature of many of their actions, as well as the slow-moving plot action.

That said, I believe I enjoyed Summer House with Swimming Pool more than The Dinner.  This was likely in part because I already knew what to expect from Koch, so the things that threw me off about the first novel didn't ruffle my feathers in this one.  Again, we have highly unlikeable characters all the way around (there's no other way to say it--the protagonist, Marc, is a straight-up a-hole), characters making very questionable choices, and inaccurate medical details that are often sprung from Koch's imagination.  However, one big difference is that I did not find the plot slow-moving at all in Summer House--something new was constantly being revealed, and the book takes place over a longer time period, so there was more to keep me involved as things moved along.

This combination of elements worked better for me this time around.  Koch has created an exceptionally thrilling, foreboding novel here, one that is sure to leave you feeling uneasy long after you finish reading.  (Seriously, some of the subject matter in this one is really stomach-turning at times.)  The "summer house" in question is brought into the novel as Marc (in the midst of the medical error that was mentioned above) flashes us back to the previous summer, when he and his family vacationed with the doomed Ralph Meier at a rental house on the coast.  The sinister nature of the novel's events come together slowly, which kept me riveted from beginning to end.  I had an inkling of what was going on before it was actually revealed, but that didn't make the buildup to the conclusion any less absorbing.

Overall, an excellent read, if not terribly unsettling.  I need to go read something about unicorns or fluffy puppies to even myself out.  If Koch can take a beautiful summer vacation and turn it into something horrific, I can't wait to see what he'll take on next.

What's the most disturbing novel you've read lately?

Ever rented a summer house?  Where?  DETAILS!  (I'm still waiting for the snow to melt here, give me some hope.)

40 comments:

  1. This does sound like it would be a very unsettling book!

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  2. I read this last summer and agree it was definitely unsettling! It was my first Koch and I was definitely thrown off by some of the scenes he included...just, well, too much. But, I also thought there were periods of brutal honesty which I enjoyed. I would like to read The Dinner...maybe it will be easier now that I know what to expect from Koch :)

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    1. I agree that the brutal honesty made for good reading. You don't get a lot of authors who are willing to go that far!

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  3. Wow, I'm stunned that you say you liked this book. I read it, and I didn't at all. 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.

    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.

    Unlike you, I read this first and have THE DINNER still to read. I keep putting it off because I disliked this book so much.

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    1. Hmmm, part of me wonders if The Dinner might also be a miss for you...because while I didn't feel bored by Summer House, I DO remember feeling a bit bored by the first half of The Dinner. Koch definitely uses a similar writing style/structure between the two novels, it just seemed to work better for me in this one than The Dinner. It's definitely not for everyone though.

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  4. I loved this book. I'm a sucker for dark and twisty and Herman Koch does those sooooo well. The Dinner was awesome too and I can't wait to see what Koch writes next!

    The darkest thing I've read lately, hmm. Oh! I just read Pet Sematary. That was definitely dark, lol.

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    1. Pet Sematary...one of the only King books that can truly give me nightmares!!

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  5. Oh, my gosh; you've taken me back to when I read this one last year! It was definitely a mind-twister, right? I did enjoy it and, as you mentioned, there are some passages that are a little disturbing! I don't know that I found it disturbing, but Hausfrau was definitely a little unsettling; I guess I must enjoy these dark tales because I loved it! Great review!

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    1. Oooh good to hear about Hausfrau--that one is coming up for me soon! I like these unsettling novels, but I need a break from them once in a while to make myself feel like a better human. Haha.

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  6. Glad to know you liked this one... I picked it up when it came out, read a couple pages and decided to try it again when I was in the mood for really unlikeable characters. I liked The Dinner, actually, so I am hoping this will be a good one, too!

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    1. Oh yes, you do have to be in the right mood for a book like this! Would love to hear your thoughts when you read it, especially since you enjoyed his other book.

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  7. Hearing that you liked this more than The Dinner is super exciting, since that was one I loved. I'm a sucker for these dark stories and I have a copy of this one..sounds like I need to get to it!

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  8. I love that you like an unsettling read. Makes me feel not so weird about enjoying dark books! I haven't read any Koch but I've sure heard a lot about his work.

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    1. If enjoying dark/unsettling books makes me a weirdo...then I am totally a weirdo. Haha.

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  9. I really liked The Dinner and it seems to be the fan favorite, but now I’m more excited about this one!

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    1. Yes, I think I've heard better things overall about The Dinner than this one. But I really think I liked this one more partially because I already knew what to expect, so it didn't surprise me or throw me off. The Dinner took some getting used to, since I wasn't acclimated to Koch's tone yet.

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  10. Well, I might just have to check this one out! As far as the most disturbing book I've ever read... I used to enjoy reading Stephen King back in the day. Cujo, Pet Semetary, The Shining, no problem. When I was fifteen I cracked open his novel, "It". BIG mistake. I kept having to hide it under my bed for a couple of days at a time until I was ready to read some more. I haven't read another King novel since (or any other horror novel, as a matter of fact). *shudder*

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    1. Ooooh It is a great one!! Makes you never want to let your kids go out alone. Haha.

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