As The Plot Thins (ATPT): Mr. Koch, thank you so much for taking your time out today to talk to us about your fantastic new (in the U.S.) book Summer House with Swimming Pool. Where did the idea for Summer House with Swimming Pool come from? You are also an actor, correct? Hopefully not too much of it is from personal experience.
Herman Koch (HK): I was thinking about a doctor who really got fed up with his profession and starts to hate his patients with all their uninteresting complaints. No personal experience here, only that I know the circles in which actor Ralph moves quite well.
ATPT: Without spoiling anything, what Marc does to Ralph was absolutely genius. Are you a big fan of medical dramas or medicine in general?
HK: Not particularly. But it occurred to me that a doctor who seeks revenge, doesn’t have to buy a gun or run somebody over with a car. It is enough that he reacts too late when he diagnoses someone with a life-threatening disease. Some doctors do this by medical error, this one does it on purpose.
ATPT: The characters in this book are pretty much the scum of the Earth. Because of this many bloggers have said they were unable to relate. I, on the other hand, had no problem relating to many of the thoughts and themes throughout the book. Am I a total lunatic or are the characters in Summer House with Swimming Pool over exaggerated examples of mankind’s dark side?
HK: I am afraid we both are lunatics in a way. There always will be readers who are easily shocked by unlikable characters. But as you say: also unlikable characters can tell (sometimes uncomfortable) truths that we can relate to. I don’t see them as over exaggerated, but sometimes in front of certain audiences I pretend I do find them very unlikable.
ATPT: Would you consider this novel to be a critique of how detestable humans can be? Or maybe a critique of celebrity?
HK: More the latter. And as a critique of a certain kind of celebrity, the kind that is not so much based on talent as on pretensions.
ATPT: To kind of go along with those previous questions, as an author, do you set out to write books with underlying themes and messages or do you just write stories and hope that people find meaning?
HK: I always try to avoid to put messages in my books. But of course I hope that some readers might feel the same way about some of the themes as I do, or at least start to think differently while they are reading the book.
ATPT: This book just came out in the U.S. in June but was actually published overseas in 2011. What have you been up to since then? I see you just published another book Dear Mr. M. What’s that book about? Anything else in the works?
HK: Dear Mr. M. is about a writer who some forty years ago wrote a bestselling novel based on a true crime. Now one of the persons involved seeks contact with him and promises him to reveal interesting new details. Maybe, he suggest, a good idea for another bestselling novel?
ATPT: What are you currently reading?
HK: Here in The Netherlands the fifth part of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgard came out, called Writer.
I am also reading 10:04 by Ben Lerner. Both great books!
ATPT: Last question, any news on when we’ll see Cate Blanchett’s version of The Dinner?
HK: I heard the first version of a script is finished. As with all movies I’m afraid we’ll have to wait.