“Summer House With Swimming Pool” reveals at the start that Ralph is dead and that Marc’s medical techniques contributed to his send-off. Anyone looking for a comparison to “Gone Girl,” winner and still champion in the realm of books that begin with deceptive death reports, will find no stiff competition here. Yes, Ralph is dead. Yes, Marc is dangerous. And most of Mr. Koch’s male characters in this book, like most in his last one, genuinely deserve their doom.”
– Janet Maslin, The New York Times
Herman Koch possesses the superhuman ability to endear his highly flawed, often morally ambiguous characters to his readers. Like Vladimir Nabokov before him, Koch utilizes humor and some very deft writing to render sympathetic middle aged men with inappropriate feelings – and general disrespect – for both young girls and women in general. Likewise, he is able to pull off making a doctor’s decision to commit vigilante justice seem not just acceptable but morally necessary.
Summer House with Swimming Pool revolves around a vacation home shared by three groups of friends. The first family, actor Ralph Meier, wife Judith and two sons are the wealthy family who rented the home. They invited their family physician, Dr. Mark Schlosser, his wife and two daughters, aged 12 and 14, as well as Hollywood director Stanley Forbes and his indecently young girlfriend to come along with them.
What follows is at first an odd and wacky trip, followed by increasingly disturbing sexual and sexually suggestive situations. All the characters, in turn, feel an attraction for someone else in the group, save perhaps Stanley’s young model girlfriend, who is instead an object of lust. What begins as a fun holiday with friends spins further and further out of control, until one of the Schlosser daughters is raped. By whom, is the question.
Dr. Schlosser chooses their host, Ralph Meier, as perpetrator without enough evidence to convict. Yet, when given the opportunity to diagnose Ralph with cancer he instead tells him there’s nothing to worry about, effectively handing down a death sentence.
But did Ralph do it? And what gives Schlosser the right to condemn?
Summer House with Swimming Pool is a masterful novel, at once hilarious and highly charged with sexuality. It begs the question who is innocent and how is innocence defined?
I would highly recommend this book as fast-paced and at times keenly funny, noting it presents mature themes. I was so impressed I’ll now go back and read his first novel, The Dinner, which I’d been avoiding due to its incredible popularity. If there’s one thing that screams “Overrated!” it’s great press and holding the top spot on every imaginable list. However, Summer House with Swimming Pool has convinced me Herman Koch is a major talent to be reckoned with. I guess sometimes the masses are right, after all.
[Thank you to Edelweiss for a free e-ARC of this book]
“With a seasonally appealing title like “Summer House With Swimming Pool,” you would think this novel is a perfect fit for a day of reading on the beach. It’s very much that, but “Summer House With Swimming Pool” is no typical summer read. Balmy temperatures and sunny skies won’t stop the chill that runs up and down your spine as the story unfolds.”
– Carol Memmott
The Washington Post
“No matter how cheaply you travel, no hotel room will ever feel as cramped and sordid as the mind of this narrator, Dr. Marc Schlosser. He boasts, “I’m more charming than most men,” but that’s true only if most men are sociopaths, and Sam Garrett’s slightly stilted translation only adds to the reptilian tone of the doctor’s thoughts.”
– Ron Charles