Sorting out my library card has been an absolute revelation. I’m so annoyed that I gave so much money to Jeffrey Bezos for Audible when I could have been doing this. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of choice and most of the books I want to listen to are already taken. On the other hand, it means that I can listen to books I wouldn’t have wanted to waste a credit on. Like this one. I’d heard about this book but didn’t really pay much attention. I’ve read a couple of Herman Koch’s books before and didn’t really rate them. In my opinion, The Dinner is massively overrated and Summer House with Swimming Pool was disappointing. So, I didn’t expect much from this one but, as it was free, I decided to try it out.
Pacing has been an issue for me in the previous books I’ve read by Herman Koch. As great as the premise sounds, I’ve usually become so bored that I lose interest way before the dramatic reveal. It’s a problem that also plagues Dear Mr. M. The story just seems to go on and on and on. And the flashbacks? Herman Koch bloody loves to flashback to every little thing at the strangest times. The narrative seemed to flit between time periods without any real logic. All of these combine to create a thriller that lacks real tension and is not thrilling.
This is a shame because this sounded like a really interesting novel. The Mr M. of the title is a struggling author who once found great success with a thriller novel. The book was inspired by the real-life disappearance of a history teacher. The teacher went missing one winter after having an affair with one of his
students. The book was an international bestseller. Nowadays, Mr. M is fading into obscurity and nobody takes much notice of him. Well, except his quiet neighbour who is keeping a close eye on the author and his family. The question is, what does he know about the writer?
The story is told from different perspectives and different periods. It jumps between the present and the past. We see the unnamed neighbour keeping an eye on the writer in one timeline. In the other, we see the unfolding relationship between two teenagers. Slowly we learn what really happened to the history teacher and who the mystery man is. The only problem is, it takes so long to get there. There is so much context that just doesn’t seem to add anything. The narrative set in the past is so slow and dull. It didn’t help that the teenagers in question are those unbearably mature ones who would relish a comparison with Holden Caulfield. It gets old very quickly.
The present storyline is the more engaging of the two but it definitely takes a backseat. It never gets as creepy as it could have done, which is a shame. The stalking element never really takes off and eventually becomes irrelevant to the plot. It just feels as though it was a hook to get people in. Then the book became a weird jumble where every single narrator just rambled on and on about nothing in particular. It was such a struggle to get through this book. Then, if you make it to the end, Koch pulls a weak reveal out that you could see coming a mile off. It’s so disappointing. This is the third book I’ve read by Herman Koch and the third one that I’ve been underwhelmed by. I think it’s time I admit he’s not the writer for me.