Dear Mr M by Herman Koch

My New Year’s reading resolution was to select books more mindfully and stop settling for middling thrillers. It was precisely for this reason that I didn’t take Dear Mr M home the first time I laid eyes on it. I’d never heard of Herman Koch before, much less The Dinner (his previous work which has earned a sticker on the front cover of this). A quick Goodreads search told me the average rating was 3.29, and as I consider anything less than 3.5 a risky prospect, back onto the display table it went.

And how sad is that? Choice broken down to a simple algorithm, a book destined not to be read because of maths. Never having been a big fan of maths (screw you, D-grade at AS Level), the next time I was in store I picked it up again and gave it a home. (This is without even getting into the blurb reviews. Grazia and The Daily Mail *shudder*. I mean, it’s not Heat magazine and The Sun, but still.). Happily there was also a pull quote from Stephen King stating that Koch is becoming one of his favourite writers, so there’s that.

All this dithering and ridiculous hand-wringing aside, did I actually enjoy reading it? Yeah! It’s not quite the Annie-Wilkes-in-Misery affair I was expecting, but there’s a good mystery at its core, and an ending I really didn’t see coming.

Perhaps my favourite element was the author-ly musings by one of the main characters, an aging writer. Coincidence, he opines, just won’t do in a novel. Characters simply cannot have the same name, and events can’t unfold too easily by happenstance, otherwise the whole thing falls apart. Koch plays with this by doing precisely the opposite – naming not just his author character, but also the secondary protagonist after himself. All of the many twists and turns towards the end could have become ridiculously coincidental, but it never felt that way to me.

At various points I did wonder if I’d have enjoyed Dear Mr M more were the structure more linear. The narrative moves between five different viewpoints over three-ish different time periods. Some of the plot strands do feel extraneous, and others seem to trail off into nothing – younger-Herman’s obsession with author-Herman’s wife, for one. Still, I suppose being kept in suspense for the eventual resolution made it all the sweeter when it finally came.

So, lesson learned. Don’t judge books by their Goodreads rating. Dear Mr M was overall an entertaining read that I can’t regret having succumbed to.

[Read from 26-30 July 2017]

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