I read Herman Koch’s The Dinner a few years back when everyone was talking about it. I hated it. So, for some reason, I decided to read his new book, Summer House with Swimming Pool. I did not hate it, but I did not particularly like it either. Like The Dinner, Summer House‘s general tone is one of deep unsettlement. Both novels leave audiences feeling icky and bothered.
During a vacation, Dr. Marc Schlosser’s daughter is raped. Schlosser and his family are staying at the home of notable actor Ralph Meier, a patient of Schlosser’s. The rapist is never identified, but Meier ends up dead shortly after the vacation, and the death appears to stem from some treatment that Meier received from the good doctor.
The premise is interesting enough and the plot moves well, but there is something largely unsatisfying about Summer House with Swimming Pool. It has all of the elements of a good mystery, and frankly, the conclusion is both surprising and gritty. It should be good, but it’s not. None of these characters are likable. We don’t want to see any of them rewarded as they are all skeevy and gross. Schlosser’s stated motives against Meier are noble enough, but they are not completely honest. We get the impression that Schlosser would be happy to see the actor die even if he did not suspect the man of rape. Schlosser’s daughter has secrets of her own, and every member of the supporting cast is tainted in his or her own special way. There is literally no one to root for – I wanted to see everyone crash and burn.
Koch is great at creating ambiance, but Summer House with a Swimming Pool really would have benefited from a protagonist with some sort of redeemable quality.