What we thought: In Summer House With Swimming Pool, Herman Koch holds a mirror up to polite, civilised, western society and watches it squirm and balk at its own ugliness. As he did in his previous novel, The Dinner, Koch paints a canvas of upstanding, decent citizens who abide by the law and frown upon the dregs of society. They may occasionally bend the rules to suit their needs, but only the silly little rules, never the big important ones. And it's always for a good reason.
The story centres around Marc Schlosser, a doctor with an enviable patient list packed full of famous household names, including the celebrated actor, Ralph Meier. The stars flock to Dr. Schlosser because he has a reputation for real care and attention to detail. Marc's unique selling point is that he spends twenty minutes on each appointment, a practice unheard of in today's pacy world.
Patients love him for it, but he, like all other doctors, knows what the problem is within the first sixty seconds. The rest of the time is just fluff. More often than not he daydreams as his patients moan about their dull lives – none duller than the boorish Ralph Meier. But, when Ralph invites Marc and his family to join the Meiers on their summer holiday, Marc goes out of his way to make it happen... for his own mercenary reasons.
The families are joined by Stanley, an ageing film director and his teenage model girlfriend, and as the holiday progresses and each character follows their own agenda, relationships become increasingly strained. As tensions mount the masks slip and we see these upstanding citizens for who they truly are.
Koch's gift is his squirm factor. He seduces his readers with average everyday characters in average everyday scenarios. Then he leads them with hypnotic ease, one chicken step at a time, to the scene of their most vivid horror. By the time they realise where the story has taken them, they are far beyond their comfort zone. Imagine waking up naked in the middle of an open city square surrounded by the people you despise the most and you're still nowhere near understanding his power.
But the real discomfort lies in the truth. We all know that we do it too. We all bend the rules a little and make excuses for doing so. We also know that we're capable of so much more. So you have to ask yourself the questions that Herman Koch poses to his characters: How far would you go? Where would you stop? What would you do to someone who tried to steal your partner? Or harm your kids? Would you become the worst you that you could be?
Mr. Koch, thank you for the discomfort.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk
Avoid if you dislike: The sinister side of civilised western society
Ideal accompaniments: Barbecue, pool and alcohol. Lots of alcohol.
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Available from Amazon