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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