‘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.