Have you ever read a book, and within about five pages you can tell by the persona of the narrator that every single person who reads this book will either hate the protagonist, or love him in a very human but somewhat twisted way? Read Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch and you will get exactly that opportunity.
This is the story of a Medical Doctor – a GP more precisely – named Marc Schlosser who is extremely disillusioned with his life, particularly as it relates to his work. He detests his patients, the medical care he has sworn to provide them and the relationships he must endure with those who visit repeatedly. He dreads with vehemence those who invite him into their personal lives sprinkled with BBQ’s, film openings (for those Hollywood types on his roster) and summer vacations. Unfortunately for Ralph Meier, he decides to include Marc on all of the above.
As Dr Schlosser explains his distastes, his on the job thought processes, his flippant attitudes about his patients’ health, and his disgust with their lives, my mind splits into two opinions: one, how dare a doctor such as he, entrusted with the care of hundreds of people, be so incredibly insensitive? Downright mean even; and two, these sentiments and opinions seem completely honest, human behaviour that may be a little angry or depressed, but so real (I mean come on, we all have moments of these types of thought patterns!), albeit sorely lacking in remorse, which the vast majority of us would indeed feel.
What makes a villain? Is it the complete disregard for anyone but himself? To be dubbed a villain, does one need to actually hurt another, and because of this, can never be stripped of the villain title? Those decisions are left up to the heart of each and every reader who delves into this book. You see, Marc Schlosser isn’t some one sided freak who only cares about himself. He has a whole other side that is deeply caring, concerned, and willing to do anything to protect those that he has decided to watch over. And this part of the story is critical; It strips away the one sided villain who only cares about himself. In fact, his care and concern might even justify his attitudes in the eyes of many readers (not necessarily mine own by the way), and allow us to openly relate to many of his idiosyncrasies and socially unacceptable parts. There was definitely a line or two (or ten) that made me smile to myself with complete understanding and empathy.
Summer House with Swimming Pool is excellently written, with a rich plot line, compelling pace, and extremely deep character development with a completeness that is a treat (yet sometimes disturbing) to watch unfold. If you love a good shock to your political-correctness meter, this one is for you.
One of my favourite reads of 2014 (so far).
And now, I must find time to read Herman Koch’s preceding novel, The Dinner!