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The tour-de-force, hair-raising new novel from Herman Koch, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool
Once a celebrated writer, M had his greatest success with a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. It told the story of a history teacher who went missing one winter after having a brief affair with a beautiful student of his. The teacher was never found. Upon publication, M's novel was a runaway bestseller, one that marked his international breakthrough.
That was years ago, and now M's career is fading. But not when it comes to his bizarre, seemingly timid neighbor who keeps a close eye on him and his wife. Why?
From alternating points of view, where no one is to be trusted, Herman Koch weaves together an intricate tale of a writer in decline, a teenage couple in love, a missing teacher, and a single book that entwines all of their fates. Thanks to M's novel, supposedly a work of fiction, everyone seems to be linked forever, until something unexpected spins the "story" off its rails.
With ever increasing tension, his signature sardonic wit and world-renowned sharp eye for human failings, Herman Koch once again spares nothing and no one in his gripping new novel, a barbed performance that suspends readers in the mysterious space between fact and fiction.
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
HERMAN KOCH is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories. The Dinner, his sixth novel, has been published in forty languages and was an international bestseller. He currently lives in Amsterdam.
Read an Excerpt
Dear Mr. M,
I’d like to start by telling you that I’m doing better now. I do so because you probably have no idea that I was ever doing worse. Much worse, in fact, but I’ll get to that later on.
In your books you often describe faces, but I’d like to challenge you to describe mine. Down here, beside the front door we share, or in the elevator, you nod to me politely, but on the street and at the supermarket, and even just a few days ago, when you and your wife were having dinner at La B., you showed no sign of recognition.
I can imagine that a writer’s gaze is mostly directed inward, but then you shouldn’t try to describe faces in your books. Descriptions of faces are quite obsolete, actually, as are descriptions of landscapes, so it all makes sense as far as that goes. Because you too are quite obsolete, and I mean that not only in terms of age—a person can be old but not nearly obsolete—but you are both: old and obsolete.
You and your wife had a window table. As usual. I was at the bar—also as usual. I had just taken a sip of my beer when your gaze passed over my face, but you didn’t recognize me. Then your wife looked in my direction and smiled, and then you leaned over and asked her something, after which you nodded to me at last, in hindsight.
Women are better at faces. Especially men’s faces. Women don’t have to describe faces, only remember them. They can tell at a glance whether it’s a strong face or a weak one; whether they, by any stretch of the imagination, would want to carry that face’s child inside their body. Women watch over the fitness of the species. Your wife, too, once looked at your face that way and decided that it was strong enough—that it posed no risk for the human race.
Your wife’s willingness to allow a daughter to grow inside her who had, by all laws of probability, a fifty-percent chance of inheriting your face, is something you should view as a compliment. Perhaps the greatest compliment a woman can give a man.
Yes, I’m doing better now. In fact, when I watched you this morning as you helped her into the taxi, I couldn’t help smiling. You have a lovely wife. Lovely and young. I attach no value judgment to the difference in your ages. A writer has to have a young and lovely wife. Or perhaps it’s more like a writer has a right to a lovely, young wife.
A writer doesn’t have to do anything, of course. All a writer has to do is write books. But a lovely, young wife can help him do that. Especially when that wife is completely self-effacing; the kind who spreads her wings over his talent like a mother hen and chases away anyone who comes too close to the nest; who tiptoes around the house when he’s working in his study and only slides a cup of tea or a plate of chocolates through a crack in the doorway at fixed times; who puts up with half-mumbled replies to her questions at the dinner table; who knows that it might be better not to talk to him at all, not even when they go out to eat at the restaurant around the corner from their house, because his mind, after all, is brimming over with things that she, with her limited body of thought—her limited feminine body of thought—could never fathom anyway.
This morning I looked down from my balcony at you and your wife, and I couldn’t help but think about these things. I examined your movements, how you held open the door of the taxi for her: gallant as always, but also overly deliberate as always, so stiff and wooden, sometimes it’s as though your own body is struggling against your presence. Anyone can learn the steps, but not everyone can really dance. This morning, the difference in age between you and your wife could have been expressed only in light-years. When she’s around, you sometimes remind me of a reproduction of a dark and crackly seventeenth-century painting hung beside a sunny new postcard.
In fact, though, I was looking mostly at your wife. And again I noticed how pretty she is. In her white sneakers, her white T-shirt, and her blue jeans she danced before me the dance that you, at moments like that, barely seem to fathom. I looked at the sunglasses slid up on her hair—the hair she had pinned up behind her ears—and everything, every movement she made, spoke of her excitement at her coming departure, making her even prettier than usual.
It was as though, in the clothing she’d chosen, in everything down to the slightest gesture, she was looking forward to going where she was going. And while I watched her from my balcony I also saw, for a fleeting moment, reflected in your wife’s appearance, the glistening sand and the seawater in slow retreat across the shells. The next moment, she disappeared from my field of vision—from our field of vision—in the back of the taxi as it pulled away.
How long will she be gone? A week? Two weeks? It doesn’t matter all that much. You are alone, that’s what counts. A week ought to be enough.
Yes, I have certain plans for you, Mr. M. You may think you’re alone, but as of today I’m here too. In a certain sense, of course, I’ve always been here, but now I’m really here. I’m here, and I won’t be going away, not for a while yet.
I wish you a good night—your first night alone. I’m turning off the lights now, but I remain with you.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“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!
I was provided an ARC of Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch in exchange for my honest review. This review is going to be pretty short, because I just could not get into this book. Dear Mr. M is a very complex psychological thriller. I did think it was a unique idea to have the story be told from the point of view of Mr. M’s stalker as if he is writing letters to Mr. M. I did not finish this book, but desperately tried to get into the book so I could finish it. After hours of reading and getting through about 25% of the book, and this is a long book at 448 pages, I didn’t feel it was fair to force myself to read a book that held no interest to me. To me, the story didn't pick up fast enough and was progressing too slow. If you enjoy a complex thriller, then this may be a book you want to try, but it just wasn’t the book for me.
This is a fantastic book. Although this is a novel, there are some great truths within it. Such as: “People read a book and imagine the faces themselves. Then they go to the movie version and the imaginary face is destroyed by the face of the actor on the silver screen”. Herman Koch is one of our greatest living writers in my humble opinion. And this novel, with all its wicked twists and turns, just cements his position. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
This novel is written from various points of view which I found confusing at times, but it doesn’t make me think negatively of the novel, I just got confused at times. The novel is mostly narrated by Herman but occasionally switches to Mr. M and maybe Laura at times. Herman and Laura are high school students and a couple at the time that a teacher, Mr. Landzaat goes missing. Mr. Landzaat and Laura had also had an affair, but she broke things off with her teacher to be with the unusual Herman. Mr. M wrote a famous bestseller, “Payback,” which was fiction based on the disappearance/assumed murder of Mr. Landzaat. Even more strange is that Herman, as a much older adult, lives in the apartment below Mr. M and his wife and child. Herman is also somewhat of a stalker, detailing daily events of this family, what they do, and their whereabouts. It’s difficult to describe the plot of this novel because most of it involves detailing Herman’s observations of Mr. M and his family or flashing back to high school with Herman, Laura, and all of their friends – leading up to Mr. Landzaat’s disappearance. The author manages impeccable characterization allowing the reader to think that they absolutely know Herman, as well as, Mr. M. However, after finishing the novel and re-reading the last chapter several times, there was an incredible clarity that dissolved all assumptions and conclusions that I had already made. Towards the end of the novel I thought that I had everything all figured out, but I then realized I didn’t. Then, I thought much like several reviews that I read, that the ending was disappointing and didn’t answer my questions. But after re-reading the last chapter and thinking about it a while, the light bulb went off above my head and I came to a conclusion that made perfect sense and explained the entire pretense of the novel. I could be wrong, so if anyone else has read this book or plans to read it – please e-mail me so we can discuss it! On one hand, I agree with other reviews saying that there are entire sections of the novel that are irrelevant, but overall, I found this incredible. This isn’t an easy, quick read but one that you stop and consider, go back and re-read, and really think about. Herman Koch took a subject that could be an average, everyday novel and made it fascinating with his subtle hints and suggestions. I’m not sure that I have everything “right” as far as the ending and the meaning, but there is nothing better than an author that can leave the reader pondering the theme or meaning of their novel well after they have finished. I can’t suggest this novel to lovers of a particular genre because this is definitely a genre-defying novel, but I can say without reservations that this is a novel that you will enjoy, and think about for quite some time. This was my first time reading anything by Herman Koch and I don’t know what his other novels are like, but I absolutely loved this one. If you are looking for something different and thought-provoking, then this is your book. *Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch is a highly recommended novel about a novel based on real events. H is the downstairs neighbor who loathes M, the novelist who moved into his apartment building a little less than a year ago and lives above him. H is keep a close eye on M, his very young wife, Ana, and daughter. Clearly his attentions to M seem to be malevolent, even before H makes it clear to the reader that he is not one of M's characters; he is a real flesh and blood person on whom a writer has loosely based a character. How implausible and quite the coincidence that M is now living above H. Perhaps some form of payback is in order. M is an aging author whose popularity has been waning for years. Forty years ago he wrote one book that still sells and is actively in print, Payback. The novel was based on real events: two teens were accused of killing a teacher who had an affair with one of them. No body was ever found. Koch begins strong, with H as the narrator. Then the novel switches to alternating points of view and the recounting of real events that happened in the past. Narrators include M, Herman and Laura (the teens), and the teacher. The real events surrounding the disappearance of the teacher in the past combined with current events that make a general uneasiness, along with the tension, rise. No one can be trusted as they all have rather pernicious motives and behaviors, which will leave you feeling increasingly uncomfortable. The backstory of H, who is Herman, one of the teens M ostensibly wrote about, overwhelms the current story of M until the very end. The end itself is wonderfully clever and shocking. Dear Mr. M is translated into English from Koch's native Dutch. I found the writing to be astute and inventive. Koch has an acerbic sense of humor and presents a keen perspective on the human condition. While the opening narrative from H clearly grabs your attention because of the sheer maliciousness he feels, the later narrators round out the story with their revelations and make it a more complex and layered tale. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House via Library Thing for review purposes.
This was my second book by Herman Koch and I must say he definitely has a different style of writing and I mean that in a good way. For some, it can be tedious, but I like it. In this book, he starts off talking about an author and he's not always so complimentary about him. This goes on for several chapters. Then all of a sudden, he is talking about a group of teenagers and it seems to be coming out of left field. Then it's back to the author and about how he has married a woman who is about half his age and how the author has one foot in the grave and another one on a banana peel, then back to the teenagers. All along I was wondering what in the heck is this story about the teenagers doing in here. Lo and behold the puzzle pieces start to fit and I discovered why they were in this book. I really enjoyed reading this book, as I said though, it is rather tedious and can be slow in several places. However, if you can stay with it, it is definitely worth the time. There are some great laugh out loud moments and some jaw dropping moments. Huge thanks to Crown Publishing and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.