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Koch, Herman - 'Summer House With Swimming Pool' (translated by Sam Garrett)
Paperback: 416 pages (July 2014) Publisher: Atlantic Books ISBN: 1782390715

"Oh, sweetheart. It isn't dirty, is it, the way men look at women? Or women at men, for that matter? I mean, that Ralph Meier is a real ladies' man, everything about him. It's probably not very nice for his wife, but OK, it was her choice. A woman can tell that right away, the kind of man she's with."

Holland - present day.
Marc Schlosser's medical practice is a comfortable one with a waiting list. He has a reputation for being an attentive doctor but Marc knows that his patients can't tell the difference between attention and time allotted. Having become familiar to the point of contempt with the sights and sounds of overloaded organs and obese bodies - sixty seconds is all that it takes for Marc to see what's what. The rest of the appointment is so much "asking after the family".

Eighteen months ago Ralph Meier, a celebrated actor, came to the surgery; Marc's practice is a draw for creative types and Meier had heard from a friend that Marc can be very accommodating with certain prescriptions. So Ralph Meier became a patient but now - he is dead and Marc is due to appear before the Board of Medical Examiners tomorrow. Not for the "prescriptions", but for what you might describe as a "medical error". In fact when Marc attended Ralph's funeral at an exclusive riverside cemetery, he was spotted by Judith, Ralph's widow, who marched right up to him and spat in his face.
Sometimes, lying awake at night, Marc thinks about Ralph - with his large voice and big gluttonous body, so well suited to his final role as "Caesar Augustus". Ralph was the only Dutch actor amongst a stellar international cast and Marc recalls him asking, after the summer, if it would be all right to go ahead with the two month film-shoot in Italy. He had assured Ralph that everything would be fine, plenty of time to sort things out when the test results come back. The series is playing on TV right now and looking at Ralph as Caesar Augustus you really wouldn't know how ill he already was.
Marc recalls Ralph in the hospital at the end. How he took Marc's hand and spoke of his regrets, apologising and asking how "she" was. He asked Marc to pass his words on but Marc withdrew his hand and refused. When it was all over the specialist came up to Marc in the hospital corridor, asking about the tissue sample he sent for analysis but which the hospital never received. Marc said he couldn't recall without checking his notes. Never mind, says the specialist, the autopsy will confirm whether a sample was taken or not...

SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL tells the story of Marc Schlosser, a successful family doctor with a lovely wife and two young teenage daughters, whose years spent tending a client list drawn from the rich and famous have blunted his zeal and fostered his cynicism. Marc and his wife are drawn into the family circle of actor Ralph Meier, resulting in an invitation to spend some time at the Meier's rented summer home. Marc is at first reluctant but his attraction to Judith, Ralph's wife, brings out the devious in him and he engineers a visit after all. The promised dubious delights of sand, sea and barbecues "chez Meier" end one night with a shocking and brutal event which has dreadful consequences for everyone.

This is the sixth novel by Dutch writer and actor Herman Koch. It is translated by Sam Garrett, an American translator who is a long-term resident of Amsterdam and who also translated Koch's previous and internationally successful novel - THE DINNER. Judging by this novel, Koch's writing is not so much mainstream crime as dark analyses of modern morals and consequences. Koch sets up an uneasy tableau in SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL. His ambivalent protagonist, Schlosser, supplies witty and satirical pokes at the pretensions of contemporary artistic life but he seems oblivious to his own hypocrisies. Koch has said that "Unlikeable characters are always more fun than too likeable ones" and he certainly establishes his characters as distinct and readable, with some implying an even seedier underbelly to success. But the real impact of this dark study of the success of "unlikeable" people lies in the climbing tensions and cross currents within the story that turns it into a modern-day tale of jealousies, revenge and death with a tragic sting worthy of any Shakespearean drama played by Ralph Meier. A thoroughly recommended "read".

Lynn Harvey, England
October 2014

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 26/10/2014 11:43