Monday, July 06, 2015

10 Minutes About "Summer House With Swimming Pool"

I've been going through a phase where nothing really excites me, book-wise. It's lasted about the last week or so, and began when I decided I didn't care much how Until I Find You turned out.  I've read that book, by John Irving, before.  But I'd listened to The World According To Garp and The Cider House Rules as audiobooks, and re-read A Son Of The Circus, and enjoyed both, and so I thought Until I Find You might be just as good a filler until my turn for It comes back around.

It wasn't. Being a more recent Irving work, I suppose I should've expected that.  After all, each of his books has I think been a bit worse than the one before.  That makes his more recent ones still tolerable, I suppose, given that he started at such a high point. But the more recent ones aren't really worth re-reading.  Or maybe, as I said, it's because I've been in a bit of a mood.

The mood broke, though, a bit at least, when I got a chance to borrow Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch last Saturday.  There was kind of an embarrassment of riches at the (online) library since both Summer House and The Bone Clocks were available to download, and I'd been looking forward to both of them.

I went with The Bone Clocks first, actually, downloading that and then cooking dinner (spaghetti) and getting the boys through their baths (splashy) and then sitting down to read, at which point I changed my mind and went with Koch's book.

I did that because the last Koch book I read was The Dinner, which was absolutely brilliant.  The Dinner took place (mostly) at a dinner party where the narrator was going to reveal a terrible secret to his brother (or brother-in-law?) who was about to run for prime minister, and it was just filled with this excellent sense of dread, and kept upping the ante the way Gone Girl did, too.  I know some people didn't like Gone Girl and those people probably won't like The Dinner, either, but for me there's a lot to be said for a book that moves from plausible to over-the-top so slowly and methodically that you don't realize just how far past believable you've gone until you're already way past that line.

So on the strength of The Dinner I abandoned To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, a book I'd actually bought, and also skipped over not just The Bone Clocks but David And Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, too, all books sitting there on my Kindle waiting to be read while I tore through about 30% of Summer House With Swimming Pool in the past 48 hours.

It was worth it.  The story is told by Marc, a doctor who should be completely unlikeable, and who is, but who is also compelling -- the same way the narrator of The Dinner was.  Marc is a general practitioner doc in the Netherlands, and his method of treatment as well as his inner monologue while treating his patients is abhorrent, and compelling.

The story begins with Marc telling us that the next day he's going to be going before a medical examining board about the death of a patient, and blithely reassuring us that the trick is to make sure the board finds no reason to not decide it was simple "medical error," and with those alarm bells already going off in the background, the story moves from Marc showing up at the funeral to a flashback of when he first met the patient (a famous actor) and on to what obviously is going to be some ill-fated summer vacation.

Unlike last week's 10 minutes, where I ranted about flashbacks wrecking the story, here, so far, the device works: From assuming Marc just doesn't care about his patients and that's why the actor died, the story slowly unfurls, until (at the point where I am at, and SPOILER ALERT!) it seems like Marc had way too many reasons to want the actor dead.

It's the kind of book I don't want to put down.  And that's 10 minutes.

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