‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’ by Herman Koch – Boorish

‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’ by Herman Koch   (2011) – 387 pages   Translated by Sam Garrett


Pity us poor readers of ‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’.  First we are subjected to a disgusting discourse on the naked human body by the most cynical general practitioner doctor ever, our novel’s narrator.  We are continually subjected to the doctor’s self-serving wildly over-simplified biological theories about sex and preserving the human race.

 “A woman who is past her sell-by date is no longer desirable to us, because there is no reason for her to be.  She does nothing to promote the continuation of the species.”

 To be fair, this is not the doctor speaking. He is quoting his professor whom he quotes extensively.

Now we will let the doctor speak for himself.

 “I fought back the urge to grab her right then and there and toss her onto the sand without further ado.  To take the initiative.  A half rape – women always like that.  All women.”

 To call our doctor narrator crass would be an understatement.

Our doctor is a male himself acting out in the most sexist lascivious ways, tempered only by his concern for his 11 and 13 year old daughters.  So when his actor friend who is in his forties decides to parade around the swimming pool area completely naked, the father wonders what effect this might have on his daughters.

 “I wondered whether perhaps I was, indeed, narrow-minded. Whether it was my own fault that the sight of Ralph Meier’s naked dick so close to my young daughters seemed so filthy.   I couldn’t quite decide – and as long as I hadn’t decided, I continued to consider it filthy.”

Be forewarned – this is one crude novel.   Whereas the dinner in ‘The Dinner’ had a certain amount of charm amongst all the nastiness, there is nothing that could pass for charm in ‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’.  This new novel basks in its boorishness.

‘The Dinner’ was a huge best seller.  I doubt ‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’ will be as big, given its utter misogyny.  So wherein does the appeal lie for these nasty novels?  First the narrators of both of these novels are ‘unreliable’.  That is, they are fooling themselves.  Since they are fools stating crackpot biological theories, they are humorous.  The doctor here reminded me of Peter Griffin on Family Guy, not that Family Guy is all that funny.

The second appeal of these novels is that he makes us feel outrage and repulsion.  Feeling even these negative emotions is better than feeling nothing.




9 responses to this post.

  1. Would I be right in assuming the misogyny is in the characters, rather than the novel on a more structural level? There’s a world of difference between characters with repugant beliefs and novels that seem to reflect repugnant beliefs in how they depict characters, if you catch my drift.

    Put another way, if a character thinks women are weak and self-serving that’s one thing, if a novel portrays all its female characters as weak and self-serving and it’s not written from a character’s perspective, that’s another.



  2. Max, that is an excellent point. It is easy to confuse the main character of a novel with the novelist. I don’t know if Herman Koch’s views correspond with the main character’s views.However I did not detect any authorial irony here which would have indicated the author disagreed with the main character.
    None of the women in ‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’ is presented as a strong character, so that says something.
    This reminds me of an argument I sometimes have about Family Guy. Some people see the show as making fun of conservatives. I see it as deeply conservative and subliminally urging you to be like Peter Griffin. I do not like Family Guy. I guess I confuse Peter Griffin with the show’s creator Seth McFarlane.



  3. I’m not a huge fan of author intent analysis. Taking family guy, it doesn’t really matter what Seth McFarlane intends. He may mean it to be a satire of conservative values, but that doesn’t of itself mean it is one.

    Satire’s tricky stuff. Do it wrong and you simply end up writing something that those you meant to satirise see as a validation of their views. In the UK in the 1980s Harry Enfield had a character called loadsamoney, intended as a satire on vulgar City types who flashed their cash and bragged about their success. It was adopted as an affectionate tribute by those people, many of whom started to copy the character and so got more extreme. Harry Enfield discontinued the character, rather than support what he’d intended to mock.

    This one doesn’t sound a success. Pending other reviews I suspect I’ll pass.



    • Hi Max,
      I don’t think Koch is satirizing the caveman views of his protagonists; I think Koch is trying to put them over on us. I could be wrong; See other reviews.



  4. Tony, I’m so glad you read this. Now I won’t have to–ever. It has been promoted by ALL the big online bookstores, and I wonder whom exactly this book is for?



    • Hi Kat,
      I’m pretty sure that you especially would not like this ‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’. Herman Koch lets his caveman values take over on this one, and he seems to be trying to convince the world that those values are right.
      The book industry just wants to make some money like they did with ‘The Dinner’.



  5. Your point about misogyny by the characters or the author is interesting, and I tend to agree that a lack of well-written women characters in the book is quite telling in itself. Koch honestly seems like the sort of author who thrives on the controversy/debate though, so I’m sort of intrigued as to which side of the divide he’s really on. Still, doesn’t sound like a particularly rewarding read. I haven’t even gotten to The Dinner yet… I somehow doubt I’ll pick this one up.



    • Hi Biblibio,
      The doctor gets caught up in the raunchy world Koch creates in this novel. But when the doctor sees that his own young daughters are getting caught up in it too, the doctor takes a different turn. He becomes puritanical.
      First the doctor has all this biological claptrap to explain the world all based on on a woman’s ability to reproduce. So an 18 year old woman is immensely attractive, and young girls are off limits. Given. However according to his biological theories, a 16 year old girl would be immensely attractive because she can reproduce, yet most societies would say a 16 year old girl should still be off limits. The novel doesn’t deal with these complexities.
      There is a certain raw energy to the novel where you enjoy reading it but maybe not like yourself for enjoying it.



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