Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel
by Herman Koch
Hardcover: 400 pages
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The blistering, compulsively readable new novel from Herman Koch, author of the instant New York Times bestseller The Dinner.
When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high profile doctor to the stars, Marc can't hide from the truth forever.
It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by Ralph and his striking wife Judith, her mother, and film director Stanley Forbes and his much younger girlfriend, the large group settles in for days of sunshine, wine tasting, and trips to the beach. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.
Featuring the razor-sharp humor and acute psychological insight that made The Dinner an international phenomenon, Summer House with Swimming Pool is a controversial, thought-provoking novel that showcases Herman Koch at his finest.
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.
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