Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Summer House With Swimming Pool was really jarring after spending a large chunk of my summer reading sweet Mitford books. Also, despite the title, I'm not sure I'd say this was a good summer read. Most of the characters are not good people, and bad things happen on their summer holiday trip. Because I wasn't thrilled with the plot, but was impressed by the writing, I'm doing a giveaway! Yup; scroll to the bottom of this review and you can enter to win a finished hardcover copy!

There's been a medical mistake, and famous actor Ralph Meier is now dead. The hospital blames the actor's general practitioner, Dr. Marc Schlosser, and calls him before the Medical Review Board. And that's where the book opens.  In the following pages, we're taken back through the events of the preceding summer, to the opulent beach house with swimming pool where the Meiers, Ralph & Judith, are vacationing with their sons, Thomas and Alex, famous film director Stanley and his much-younger girlfriend Emmanuelle, and the Schlossers: Marc and his wife, Caroline, and their daughters Julia and Lisa. Full house! The group spends long lazy days by the pool or on the beach; grilling out fresh seafood and drinking wine by the bottle. The kids all get along really well and spend their days in the pool and playing ping pong. No itinerary, nowhere to be, just relaxing. On the surface. 

Under the surface.... That's another story. Nearly all the adults in this book are pretty despicable. Summer House With Swimming Pool is told from Marc's point of view, so we get to hear all his thoughts about the patients he treats. He looks down on all of them. Scratch that. Marc actually loathes all of them. There are a few diatribes where he talks about how disgusting he finds their naked bodies, and how he can only barely stand to listen to them talk when they come in for their check-ups. At first I was making a comparison to the fictional Dr. House of TV fame, but Dr. Schlosser feels much meaner and more spiteful. And then so many of his motivations, for the choices he makes and the actions he takes, while on this vacation are just skewed so far from what I would consider "normal" that it's almost appalling. 

And guess what? The other men aren't right either. There's Ralph, who is openly lecherous toward females. He's pretty non-discriminatory: he leers at Caroline, who's over 40, and her daughter, Julia, who's only 13. And he mentally undresses lots of other girls/women while on vacation. Then there's Stanley, who's over 50 and dating a girl who is roughly 18 or 19. But that's not enough for him, either; he joins Ralph in flirting with other girls at the bar or on the beach. 

Then the unthinkable happens, and Julia is raped one night at the beach. Due to a combination of alcohol and bad decisions, none of the adults are with the young teens Alex and Julia as they walk up the beach to a nightclub. No adults are with them when they walk back. And Julia suffers. (This isn't a spoiler; it's in the Goodreads blurb.)

So at the end of the book, I hated nearly all the characters. But I feel like that's the intended reaction, so that's an indication of good writing. The prose flows seamlessly. The descriptions are so well-written that I really felt like I was there, with those nasty people. Where the book suffers a little are in the repeated extended inner monologues that Marc has, where he discusses all the ways (in graphic detail) that he finds the people around him disgusting. The book also suffers for want of character growth. Not a single character learns anything or becomes any better members of society. And finally, I personally feel like the book suffered a little (for me) for the differences in cultural mores between America & the Mediterranean & Holland. Like, how normal is it for adult males to spend entire days around the pool nude? With pre-teen & teen girls in attendance? The level of alcohol consumption in the book- normal for vacationing Europeans or overindulgence?

My final rating: 3 out 5. Good writing, but I felt like I needed to wash my hands (and my mind) after reading it. Enter my giveaway, win the book, and let me know what you think of it!

*I received my copy of Summer House With Swimming Pool from  Thank you!

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