Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"M" is a famous writer whose best days are probably, if truth be told, behind him. He's best known for his novel, Payback, which tells the story of a high school history teacher, Mr. Landzaat, who went missing one winter after having an affair with one of his female students. That student, Laura, had moved on to a relationship with a boy her own age, Herman. The two were staying at a vacation cottage and were the last ones to see their teacher. Did they have something to do with his disappearance? Now, M lives with his beautiful (much younger) wife and little daughter in an apartment. They have a neighbor who seems to have a odd fascination with the couple, but why? The novel weaves together the tales of these disparate characters.
I had heard a lot about Koch's novels and was excited to win this one via a Goodreads Giveaway. It was certainly interesting and definitely different than many novels I read. I have to admit that it was a rather slow read, especially the first three quarters or so. There was actually a point where I was considering giving up for a bit, but I soldiered on. Some characters in the novels never have names (just initials), and we don't really get insight into who our varying narrators are. While I understand why (and it adds to the drama of the novel), I'll confess that it gets a little confusing at times. You really have to stay on your toes as you read.
Still, the novel is definitely more compelling toward the end, and I found myself staying up late to finish it. The twist at the end was certainly not what I expected. The varying viewpoints wind up working out well, as you really see the story unfold from everyone's perspective. Still, I found the story a bit diluted by a bit of a "meta" storyline about writers, as well as an odd insertion about M's father and his role in the resistance, as well as M's own views, which never really seemed to have a full role or point in the tale. I enjoyed the novel, but I didn't love it, and it (frankly) exhausted me a bit.
I received a copy of this novel via a Goodreads Giveaway (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review.
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