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Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 3, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; Tra edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804138818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804138819
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (617 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Exclusive Q&A with Author Herman Koch

Q. Could you explain some of the inspiration for Summer House with Swimming Pool?

A. At first I thought about the idea of a ‘passive’ murder. In a novel, if a character wants to kill someone, they have to think about weapons and there’s a certain amount of planning. A doctor, however—particularly an ambivalent one like Marc Schlosser—could murder someone simply by medical error. I found this real-life possibility intriguing.

Q. Like The Dinner, Summer House with Swimming Pool calls upon a parent’s natural instinct to protect their children, both from external forces and from themselves. How does this theme speak to you as a writer?

A. Being a parent myself I found that this instinct to protect is stronger than anything else. In writing the two books I was curious as to how far my characters were prepared to go. Marc Schlosser in Summer House is only thinking in the interest of his daughters and yet, as readers we might ask ourselves if he is going too far.

Q. Your characters aren’t always as honest with each other as they are with the reader. Do you think humans inherently struggle to tell the truth?

A. I think we all try to function in a certain role. We are interested in what other people think about us, and most of the time we try to have control over the outside image we are trying to present. What we really think, and what—in a novel—I feel free to tell a reader, is a different story altogether.

Q. The Dinner takes place over a few hours—and courses—in a chic restaurant. The action of Summer House sprawls across a summer and is set in several locations including Amsterdam, a beach along the Mediterranean, and finally, the United States. How much of a role did setting play in Summer House?

A. Though it might not end up as a specific description in my books, I’m always thinking of a concrete setting, a place I know very well—I have to know exactly in which summerhouse we are staying and what the swimming pool looks like and how far it is from the house. Also where the nearest beach is, where characters would go to do their shopping, etc. The exact place is less important. Some European readers of Summer House think it’s set in the south of France, while others place the story in Italy or northern Spain. I know where it is: I’ve been there myself.

Q. Which of your characters do you think is the most relatable, if any?

A. I always try to feel sympathy for all of my characters, even if they do terrible things. If not, they become two-dimensional monsters. I want them to be real-life people, although we might condemn what they do, we should at least be able to understand why they do it under the circumstances.

Q. How did your background as an actor inform the way you wrote Ralph Meier?

A. Well, I have met actors like Ralph Meier. I drank beer with them at the bar and listened to their stories. And I thought: one day you will end up in a book of mine.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. My next novel, Dear Mr. M, just came out here in The Netherlands the first week of May. It’s about a formerly-bestselling writer, M, who is now very old and almost forgotten. Forty years ago he wrote a successful novel loosely based on facts, in which a school teacher disappears forever. Two schoolchildren were accused of having had a hand in this, but there was no proof. Now, at the end of his career, the disappearance case returns to haunt him.

From Booklist

Just as he did in his bestseller, The Dinner (2013), Dutch novelist Koch tells a sinister tale through the eyes of a questionable narrator. Marc Schlosser is a physician whose reputation as a concerned and thoughtful listener has brought him high-end clientele. One patient is Ralph Meier, an imposing theater actor suffering from terminal cancer. Marc assists him in his suicide in the opening pages and then looks back to share the events leading up to Ralph’s death, beginning when Marc and his wife, Carolyn, attend a performance of Ralph’s. The actor and his wife, Judith, invite Marc, Carolyn, and their two daughters to spend some time at their summer house with them and their sons. Though Carolyn is put off by the way Ralph looks at her, Marc’s attraction to Judith ultimately leads to the Schlossers accepting the Meiers’ offer. The decision has devastating repercussions for both families. It’s a slow burn, but Koch’s deft and nuanced exploration of gender, guilt, and vengeance make his second novel to be translated into English an absorbing read. --Kristine Huntley

Customer Reviews

The story was very interesting.
It's tough to really enjoy a story when the main character isn't very likeable.
I will admit, I was not sure I was going to like this book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Summer House With Swimming Pool is a very difficult book to review. Its characters are so gauche, lascivious, jaded, machinating and disgusting that it is easy to confuse being repelled by them to being repulsed by the book. However, the ease with which the author describes the despicable nature of human beings is what makes this book compelling.

Marc Schlosser, the very unreliable narrator of this tale, is a Dutch physician who specializes in treating people in the arts. He gives each of his patients twenty minutes of time which they mistake for attention. Often, Marc is daydreaming or doodling as his patients discuss their bodies or illnesses which tend to repel him and he views as loathsome. Marc feels compelled to attend the theater and art openings that his patients invite him to, though he finds them tedious and boring. His wife, Caroline, often chooses to stay at home.

Marc and Caroline have two daughters. Lisa is eleven and Julia is thirteen. Both of them are lovely and Marc sees their beauty as a reflection on him. Caroline and he have an easy life together but it appears to lack much depth.

Ralph Meier, a famous actor, becomes one of Marc's patients. He is starring in an HBO series about Augustus and is in a Shakespearian play. Marc initially treats Ralph for fatigue and easily prescribes uppers for him without giving him a serious medical exam. Marc and Caroline attend the the opening of Ralph's Shakespeare play. Afterwards, Ralph very lewdly looks Caroline up and down. Interestingly, Marc is enchanted with Ralph's wife Judith.

Ralph and Judith are renting a summer home and mention that it would be nice if Marc and Caroline visit. Caroline is not particularly interested but Marc is fascinated by Ralph.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Lori on June 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved "The Dinner" and think Herman Koch is a wonderfully gifted writer. The problem here is the plot, or lack thereof. The book starts out intriguing and entertaining as told by the twisted unreliable narrator, a primary care doctor who detests his patients and all specialists, and is grossed out by the human body in its less than perfect forms. I was ready to take a wild ride with this guy as I did with the narrator of "The Dinner", but unfortunately this book's narrator is much better than the story he's telling.

The plot could have made for a terrific short story or maybe a better book -- but as written the novel peters out page by page past the first third. I found myself turning pages just to get to the twist I knew was coming having read "The Dinner", but that too was a disappointment and an inadequate payoff.
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful By L. Young VINE VOICE on May 31, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Reading Koch's latest movel is like driving past the scene of a terrible auto accident. The bodies are being taken away. It's gruesome and horrific but you can't turn your eyes away. Written in the first person by Dr. Marc Schlosser a family physician in Holland, he appears to be an ordinary doctor on the surface. He has a beautiful wife Caroline, and two lovely young daughers Julia and Lisa. However, within a few pages it becomes obvious that Marc is no ordinary doctor. He ruminates on how repulsive and repugnant he finds the bodies of his patients. In fact he wouldn't mind if some of them died and disappeared. He is a doctor to the creative with many artists, writers and actors as patients. He becomes friendly with a famous middle-aged actor named Ralph who is one of his patients. Soon Ralph invites Marc and his family to come and stay with his wife and kids at a house they have rented on the coast where a tragedy will ensue that will have powerful repercussions for all.

The novel is gripping from the beginning with a building sense of horror that grows out of people barely on the edge of control. Read this and you will never look at your family doctor in the same way again.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful By K. Sullivan VINE VOICE on June 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Marc Schlosser is a fairly successful general practitioner in the Netherlands. His practice is threatened, however, when a relatively famous actor, Ralph Meier, develops a terminal condition while in his care. The mysterious circumstances surrounding a possible misdiagnosis could cost Marc more than his medical license. "Summer House with Swimming Pool" begins after Meier's death. Marc serves as narrator. After establishing the present day setting, he recounts the development of his relationship with the actor and how their families ultimately shared a fateful vacation at a European beach house. Is it possible Marc improperly treated Ralph and even sabotaged his health? What happened at the beach house that could make such a scenario even plausible?

The first-person narration is akin to the internal monologue of a sociopath. Readers familiar with Herman Koch's previous novel, "The Dinner", will find themselves on very familiar ground. Marc appears mild-mannered and intelligent. He cogently explains his general distaste for the wealthy artistic types that frequent his medical practice. He describes his loving, almost idyllic, interactions with his wife and two young daughters. And yet, something lurks beneath his thoughtful exterior. Some of his viewpoints are patently misogynistic and ill-informed. He recounts morbid daydreams in an off-handed manner. His robust self-confidence is misleading because he draws questionable conclusions (whether in regard to his role in the socialized system of medicine or his interpretation of other characters' motivations or actions). In time, the reader suspects there's something unpredictable and possibly dangerous in Marc. His narration may not be dishonest, but it's certainly skewed.
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