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Summer House With Swimming Pool – holiday reading set in Amsterdam and Southern Europe

8th July 2014

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch – holiday reading set in Amsterdam and Southern Europe.

A book for all Northern Europeans about to head for the Southern European beaches – a frightening story of what may be awaiting you.

IMG_1958Herman Koch has created Marc Schlosser and his wife Caroline. Marc is a doctor of dubious ethics who ministers to the rich and famous. One of his patients is Ralf Meier, a famous Dutch actor. Ralf, and his wife Judith, invite Marc and Caroline to spend a few days with them at a Summer House With Swimming Pool they are renting for their summer holiday somewhere (quite possibly the French Riviera) in Southern Europe. For various reasons (not least that Marc fancies Judith…) they accept. Oh yes, and Ralf fancies Caroline – and a teenage affair is brewing between Marc and Caroline’s elder daughter, Julia and Ralf and Judith’s son, Alex. You get the basic recipe – but then add in the other ingredients, Stanley (Hollywood producer) and Emmanuelle… his girl friend young enough to be his daughter. And you now have a tasty dish.

The book is a provocative and disturbing read, not least because of its subject matter. Some of the medical descriptions are downright stomach turning – for example when Marc lances an abscess on his own eye… told in graphic detail, or when a patient is subjected to an internal examination. But those are physical. There is also the psychological disturbance of Julia developing into a young woman and experimenting with her sexuality – and the way (both actual and imagined) that the older men around her engage with this. She ends up being raped on a beach. And Marc suspects both Ralf and Stanley – both of whom we think we know enough about to believe in the possibility. But was it one of them or someone else?

Ralf ends up dead from a cancerous tumour. Should Marc have diagnosed this earlier, or did he even actively help the spread of the disease by the medical procedures that he carried out? When the personal gets involved with the professional then life becomes confusing for all. A board of enquiry endeavours to get to the truth…

Summer House With Swimming Pool is a book I finished a couple of days ago, and to which my mind has returned several times in the intervening period. It is, a bit like The Dinner – also by Herman Koch – a book that you dwell on. Yes it is a mystery and a quite amusingly written one at that. But is is also far deeper – exploring the murkier side of human behaviour in a way that provokes thought in the reader.

Great holiday reading for anyone heading for the beaches of Southern Europe.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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