In the High Peaks

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool: Thoughts and Questions

I would never discourage anyone from reading this book. Even though I thought The Dinner had more to say to me about  life (whatever that is), and although it was a cutting-edge allegory of Europe since World War II (yes, of course, I’m crazy!), Summer House with Swimming Pool is, all in all, for better or worse, impossible to forget and encompasses much, much more than what appears on the slippery surface of the “family” story he tells.

After all, what are we to make of Marc Schlosser, the physician-narrator? He is more than a little abnormal from page one. Most people who become family doctors, internists, or general practioners—whatever one calls them—have significant defenses built up to protect their psyches from being grossed out by every single incident that occurs with medical contact with the human body, whether in health, detritus, or decay. Not Marc Schlosser. He is creeped out by nearly everything about the serious business of medicine. I found him to be ghoulishly repulsive in this regard. And I thought that Koch intends us to be repulsed, and to imagine our naked selves unclad on Schlosser’s examining-room table. Horrid!

What is Schlosser seeking when he insinuates his entire family into Ralph's (the great actor and movie star mogul) Mediterranean rental commune? Is it to brush shoulders with Ralph’s fame? To see if he can find a way to imbibe Ralph’s incessant breaking of boundaries to recharge his (Schlossser’s) own life and thus compensate for the daily suppression of self he suffers in his medical practice? What??? I think Koch begs the reader to find an explanation for Schlosser’s lunacy, or at the least, his off-balance intentions.

The crux of the novel, as it impends on the climax, focuses on a murky mishap that involves or befalls Schlosser’s gorgeous 13-year-old daughter Julia. Did Ralph really rape Julia, as Schlosser is convinced? Or is Schlosser merely projecting his incestual predilictions onto Ralph? What do you think?
How are we to view Schlosser's grotesque assault on Ralph's body in Schlosser's examining room? Is this a mere novel of horror? I ask you.

And what are we to make of Schlosser’s neon flashback to the anti-homosexual lectures/rants of his medical school professor, which was for Schlosser, an indoctrination into what was, for him, the horrors of anal penetration?

In my review of The Dinner, I stated my convinction that it was, among other things, an allegory. I suspect that Summer House with Swimming Pool may be also—there’s just too much social commentary for it not to be, to my mind. So what’s my problem? I don’t have a clue what Koch is trying to say. Do you? Koch is definitely saying something in this novel. What are your views? Please share them openly!



  1. Wow! This book is waiting for me at the library, but I'm actually having second thoughts about reading it. It may be one of those books that I start and then can't look away, even if I want to...

    1. Hi, JoAnn,
      I am sorry that my review has made you have second thoughts about reading Summer House. I can see why you (or I) wouldn't want to, but it would be interesting to have another person's point of view about the book. Perhaps I am not seeing things clearly? Perhaps you would have a different take on it. It would be fun to compare notes about it.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Good Grief, Kathy!
      I'm so sorry--I had no idea I deleted your comment! Yikes--sincere regret!
      I was responding to your comment that the book did not sound like one for you--you said it so, so much better.
      And my response is:
      Kathy, I will say this for Summer House; it's certainly not a "cozy" thriller. But I do hope and wish that more people would read it because I'm not sorry I read it. I just wish I knew where Herman Koch was going with it. I sincerely wish to know.

  3. Ohmigosh! I'm so sorry I'm just getting to your comment now. I wholeheartedly agree that Koch's books mirror issues in society! I believe many international readers may overlook this aspect.
    Thanks for responding!

  4. This seems like a really tough sell in some ways! I think subjects like this require a lot of thought and maturity to tackle that some authors don't have. Do you think the book's central conflict, Julia and Ralph, was handled "well"? Does it ask the question in a thoughtful way? I hope so, I was thinking of reading it!

    Bernice Cunningham @ Guardian Industries