“DEAR MR. M: A NOVEL,”
BY HERMAN KOCH
PUBLISHER: HOGARTH; SEPTEMBER 6, 2016
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.
So this is one of those novels that I did not read any reviews prior to reading. I finished reading “Dear Mr. M” today and just browsed some reviews on Amazon and am kind of surprised by the reviews. I saw several comments saying they never figured out “whodunnit” and have come to the conclusion that these readers not only did not finish the novel, but they didn’t think about it after finishing. I’ll get back to this in a bit though…
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 🙂
Learn more about Herman Koch by visiting his web page.
Purchase “Dear Mr. M” on Amazon.
*Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing this novel in exchange for an honest review.