book review

Dear Mr M (2016) | Herman Koch


I might have gone on a bit of a reading spree while I was overseas.

Look, I liked Dear Mr M. It was good, but it wasn’t The Dinner good. It was good in the sense that misanthropic Dutch author Herman Koch, who writes nasty books for nasty readers about nasty people doing unpleasant things and thinking politically incorrect thoughts, continues to develop as an author. His writing is more poetic and flows well; he’s branching out from the single first-person narration to trying multiple points of views.

Dear Mr M tells the story of an author whose popularity peaked with a novelisation of a sensationalised case of an alleged school-based murder; the disappearance of a teacher, who was thought to have been killed by the boyfriend of his former student lover. The narrator stalking Mr M, the has-been author, like Koch’s protagonists (antagonists?) is an unpleasant person with black comedic insights into marriage, sex, life, music, and life in general. As usual, we are unsure whether Koch is criticising such a mindset or if these characters are avatars for himself. Either way, it is as compelling as it is grotesque; morbid curiosity makes me enjoy his complex style and characters far too much to dismiss it as basic misogyny or racism.

Perhaps it was because of the POV changes and date-hopping, but I was left confused and ultimately dissatisfied with Dear Mr M. Though written elegantly, there was no clear resolution or ending as there was in The Dinner or his other excellent work Summer House with Swimming Pool. It was good, but not superb.

I look forward to reading more of Koch’s works in the future, nonetheless. Dear Mr M felt like an experiment, testing to see what works with his particular style. Here’s to hoping his next book has the refinement of The Dinner and the eloquence of Dear Mr M.


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