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3.2 out of 5 stars
Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel
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134 of 148 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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. Through Marc's machinations, he and his family end up at Ralph and Judith's summer home where they camp out in a tent. Also visiting the Meiers is a famous American film director named Stanley Forbes and his very young girlfriend, Emmanuelle. Ralph is a big man with huge appetites which border on the repulsive - the way he eats, the way he looks at women, how loud he is, how he looks at Marc's daughters, and the easy way he likes to take off his clothes.

The summer progresses with lots of drinking, eating, trips to the beach, sexual play and intrigue. Even Marc's daughters are caught up in their involvement with Ralph's two sons, Alex and Thomas, who are close to them in age. However, no one is prepared for the events that catch them off guard and end in tragedy.

This is a book about appetites and nausea, desire and repulsion. The writing and characterizations are excellent and I was caught up in the plot by the first page. Koch knows how to hold a reader captive. This is a much better book than his last one, The Dinner. However, I have mixed feelings about it. It was difficult to read such a well crafted book about such despicable people. I often found myself flinching because of the extreme unlikability of the characters. There wasn't one I empathized with or really cared about. I felt like I was peering through a keyhole and watching some abhorrent strangers as I read. Perhaps that is the author's intent. If so, he has succeeded.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified 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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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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
Format: HardcoverVine 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. Readers may find him fascinating or alienating, or equal parts both.

Herman Koch writes well. He spices the novel with intriguing commentary on socialized medicine, human instinct, and gender differences. The mystery is compellingly readable even if the pacing lags at times. But the biggest problem for the novel is that the answers it provides just aren't satisfying enough. Even acknowledging Marc's personality quirks and flaws, his behavior didn't compute. As the convoluted plot unravels, Marc acts impulsively inviting the most permanent and dire of consequences. Without credible grounding, the plot feels contrived and arbitrary.

Having read "The Dinner", the sense of déjà-vu while reading "Summer House with Swimming Pool" was palpable. It's like Herman Koch simply transplanted his earlier novel's protagonist and narrative point of view to the new novel. The storylines differ, but the psychological essence is the same. It's one thing for an author to have a unique and distinctive voice that permeates his work; it's something else for the author to write essentially the same story. One wonders if the author is a one-trick pony. His third novel has already been released in The Netherlands ("Dear Mr. M"). One hopes he ventured out into new territory rather than relying on the same familiar and well-worn tropes of his previous two novels.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
My Thoughts

Dr. Marc Schlosser is well know with his patients for being pretty easy with writing prescriptions. This brings actor Ralph Meier to his practice. The two develop a somewhat loose relationship. One summer, Ralph invites Marc and his family to stay at their summer house with a swimming pool. Something bad happens to one of Marc’s daughters. Is it possible Dr. Marc sought his revenge via his medical treatment of Ralph?

The author has given us two despicable characters in Marc and Ralph. Marc has a blase attitude about both his medical practice and his marriage. Ralph is glutinous in every aspect of his life. It’s almost as if these two negative personalities were attracted to each other.

I will admit, I was not sure I was going to like this book. But given time, I discovered that the author wrote with strong description and a good dose of subtle humor. When I finish a book, I ask myself - would I read more from this author? With regard to Herman Koch - the answer is yes.

My thanks to Crown Publishing for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Weird book. Ending very dissatisfying. Characters were all unlikeable. I endured through the drudge, wanting to see how it ended, and wish I had not.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Marc Schlosser is a General Practitioner in Holland. As time has passed, his practice has gradually become a place frequented by artists and actors, often suffering from either hypochondria or illnesses brought on by their lifestyles. Marc has a reputation for being willing to help out with the occasional prescription for drugs that might not be strictly medically necessary. His patients think he's wonderful and caring (or so he tells us) mainly because he allows twenty minutes for an appointment and appears to want to listen to what they want to say. But the reader has the dubious privilege of seeing inside Marc's head, and we soon learn that he's rather different to the image he projects as he tells us about his disgust for the human body and contempt for his patients.

As the book begins we learn that Marc is being investigated for malpractice by the Board of Medical Examiners over the death of one of his patients, successful actor Ralph Maier. As he waits to learn the outcome, Marc tells the story of how Ralph became his patient and of how their families gradually became acquainted, culminating with Marc taking his wife and two young daughters to stay with Ralph's family in his summer house, complete with swimming pool. Sexual attraction turns the house-party into a tangled web of hidden and not-so-hidden emotions, gradually darkening as we move towards the shocking incident that's at the heart of the story.

This is a wonderful book. The writing is brilliant and the translation by Sam Garrett is so good that I had to check that it actually was a translation - it reads as smoothly as if it were originally written in English. Most of the characters are fairly repellent, with both Marc and Ralph coming close to being grotesques, and yet Koch keeps the reader totally involved, desperate to know what happened and why. The book deals with some pretty dark subject matter relating to how society views women and in particular young girls and Koch doesn't shy away from making the reader uncomfortable to the point of squirming. But it's richly laced with some really wicked humour that made me laugh out loud at many points, while wishing somehow that I wasn't finding it funny!

Marc's views range from the conventional to the outrageous and part of the discomfort for the reader is that awful feeling of recognition - of suddenly hearing Marc say that thing we wish we had never thought and would never dare to say in our politically correct world. We'd like to disassociate ourselves entirely from him, but Koch won't let us. For Marc is no simple monster - he has a wife and daughters who love him and he functions well in society - he's just close enough to normal to make him truly disturbing as he reminds us that we never really know what is going on behind the surface in anyone. And yet, as the story unfolds, it's almost impossible not to find oneself empathising with him, which is the most disturbing thing of all.

Dark, funny and thought-provoking, in the end this is as much about the diseases of the soul as of the body, the two somehow tangled together in Marc's mind. The pacing is perfect, the writing and translation are superb, and Marc is an unforgettable character. One of the best books of the year, in my opinion - highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Crown Publishing.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
After last year’s English translation of Herman Koch’s internationally acclaimed The Dinner, an agonizing story of the anger and violence dragging under the surface at the dinner table, we know to except something searing and intimate from this master of the slow burn. I expected a car crash of a tale from Summer House with Swimming Pool, vehicles flipped and burned, while I’m left staring and braking as I pass by, unable to speed up and get going and leave the wreckage in my rear view.

I wasn’t disappointed. Koch seems to choose the most mundane names for these books, which drastically juxtapose with their messy and dark guts: a dinner, a summer house, a swimming pool. Simple things. The books, however, take on the most private and tragic of subjects–those around you turning violent and pedophiliac, nights where too much drink goes from fun to bad to irreparable too quickly, choosing to seek revenge on those who have wronged you or your family, allowing revenge to be taken while you sit back and watch the clock.

Summer House with Swimming Pool starts with Dr. Marc Schlosser, general practitioner, revealing to the reader his odd view of his craft and his patients. He seems almost maniacal as he rants of the artists who drink too much and then hide their vices from him, their doctor. He practices medicine with a careless abandon, spending twenty minutes with each patient to ensure they feel attended to while really dismissing most concerns outright. This part of the book, the lead up to the actual meat of the thing, seems to be the weakest, as the Schlosser’s character seems bordering on insanity, unbelievability.

But then, we get past Schlosser’s introduction to his private practice as he recounts what can only be called a tragedy, one of those awkward and beautifully rendered modern family portraits executed so startlingly well by Jonathan Franzen and A.M. Homes in the past. Schlosser and his wife and two kids go camping, and meet up with a patient of Schlosser’s. An actor, with a house. A summer house, with a swimming pool. The booze is flowing and from the beginning things are not quite right–motives are unclear, and Schlosser’s wife wants to leave this new gang of friends. As with so many things, enough small warning signs are ignored, enough unusual events made usual, enough heads turned in the wrong direction, that everything is okay until it all has suddenly, horribly spun out of control. Someone is hurt, and revenge is taken.

I just can’t say too much about this book without giving something or other away, as this is one of those books that illustrates so well our inability to ever truly know those around us, especially those closest to us. Clear your schedule if you pick this book up–I read it in a day or two, unable to stop until I knew what was truly going on, until I’d followed every paranoid twist and desperate turn to the final conclusion.

Summer House with Swimming Pool, just as The Dinner before it, reminds us that every individual has a uniquely intimate private life, swirling with their own motives and fears, their own lies and truths. Koch’s writing deals with, as some of the best writing does, these monstrosities we keep within ourselves or place onto others: the unknowable within us, the rage we hold inside or are unable to hold inside any longer, desires filled or unfulfilled, beliefs rightly or wrongly held. One of the gifts of literature is that we are able to read what other people are thinking, but books like this remind us that we are luckily unable to know what those around us are thinking in everyday life.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I was supremely disappointed in this novel after being so thoroughly impressed by The Dinner. This book was long with little to no character development and no suspense to speak of. The last thing I would call this book is a "page-turner" - I just kept waiting for some kind of fantastic twist or action to take place. The story takes forever to really get going, the family doesn't even arrive at the summer house until a third of the way through the book. Marc, the main character, is so unlikable the reader can't possibly sympathize with him even as an antihero. I just ended up feeling sorry for his poor wife and daughters who are stuck with this boring sociopath.
Overall good writing, which was to be expected. But the story was really lacking and I couldn't wait for it to be over so I could get on to a better, more stimulating novel.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Right off the bat you know you are dealing with an extremely unreliable narrator in Herman Koch’s new novel, “Summer House with Swimming Pool”. Marc Schlosser is a doctor; a bad doctor. He even tells us this: “I’m a doctor.” “I do my best to act interested.” And “I pretend to look.”

Marc is pretty much a jerk; he’s conceited, chauvinistic, devious, narcissistic and arrogant. He’s fussy about, and turned off by, the human body in a way you don’t expect a doctor to be. In fact, WARNING TO THE SQUEAMISH: there are quite graphic descriptions of bodies, bodily activities and bodily fluids in this novel, and a particularly graphic description of an infected eyeball.

The story takes place in the Netherlands. We know up front that Marc is being investigated because one of his patients, a famous actor named Ralph Meier, died due to a “medical error”. But the more we read what happened to Ralph and his strange relationship with Marc and his family, the more we start to question whether Marc did, or failed to do, something that hastened Ralph’s demise. And it is revealed that Ralph is an even bigger jerk than Marc – at least as described by our unreliable protagonist, Marc.

Marc frequently goes off on tangents about various topics from the Dutch Socialized medicine infrastructure to the evolution of human reproduction. All of his pronouncements about medicine, society, and science, are suspect. He states; “Most phobias originate in the first four years of life…” is that true? He’s too unreliable to believe, but that’s what makes him, and this story, so compelling! I raced through the novel, eager to see what was going to surprise and/or horrify me next.

Just when the reader is at the pinochle of disgust with Marc something terrible happens and we start to pity him…almost. Ultimately being in Marc’s head is disturbing and depressing. He views all women as inferior creatures and sex objects. While Marc is horrified that anyone would look upon his 13 year old daughter as a sex object, he is a huge hypocrite by being willing to allow her to be a model for another lecher. How does he think society gets “okay” with sexualizing children?

I know that not all men think about women like they are brainless “sexual treats” the way Marc and Ralph do, but plenty do. Plenty do. I’m giving this book 5 stars, not because I liked the subject and the characters, but because once it got going I simply couldn’t put it down, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.
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