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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925355505
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Book Review: Dear Mr M by Herman Koch - Reviewed by CloggieA (25 Sep 2016)
“It’s not something that can simply be turned on and off, this constant observing of superabundant detail; he is a writer, he tells himself, but the vacuuming up of details is purely obsessive. Often, after a day in the city, or a meal in a crowded restaurant, he comes home exhausted by all those faces and their irregularities.”
Dear Mr M is the eighth novel by Dutch actor, television and radio producer, newspaper columnist and author, Herman Koch, and the third to be translated into English. “Dear Mr M” is the salutation that begins a long letter to the ageing and formerly best-selling author who has moved into a flat in Amsterdam, from the younger man who lives in the flat below. Mr M’s bestseller was a thriller about a high school history teacher who was murdered by two of his students after having an affair with one of them. It was based on actual events that occurred at Terhofstede in late December some forty years previous.
In real life, police never recovered the teacher’s body, the teenagers protested their innocence, and much of actually happened was unknown. M did what authors do best, and filled in the gaps with his imagination. But it seems the man writing to M knows the story much more intimately: wouldn’t M like to know what really happened?
The story is split between the present day and that eventful year forty years ago The first person narrative by Mr M’s downstairs neighbour is supplemented by third person narratives from the perspective of Mr M, his young wife, one of the students involved and the teacher. Koch’s characters are multi-faceted: few are quite what they first appear to be, none is entirely blameless and all possess some very human flaws.
Koch gives the reader highly original plot with plenty of twists, back-flips, red herrings and a conclusion that will leave the reader gasping; he manages to include a fist fight, book signings, a bit of stalking, and the making of home movies. There is quite a bit of satire, some irony and plenty of humour, some of which is rather black, some tongue-in-cheek, starting with the disclaimer: "Anyone who thinks he recognises himself or others in one or more characters in this book is probably right. Amsterdam is a real city in the Netherlands"
This novel is cleverly crafted to keep the reader constantly wondering about the truth; this keeps the pages turning as the facts about what happened at Terhofstede, and what led up to it, are gradually revealed. Koch’s commentary on authors, both best-selling and mediocre, on publishers, on librarians, on interviews and author events, is accorded authenticity from his obvious personal experience. Flawlessly translated from the original Dutch by Sam Garrett, this novel is Koch’s best yet. A brilliant read! 5 stars
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