Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch – Stalking An Author

12th February, 2017

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Mr. M has become a famous literary figure after the success of his novel based on a real life incident. But why does his neighbour closely watch him? Why does he stalk him and his family?

Review

Mr. M is an acclaimed writer who rose to fame when he wrote a suspense novel based on a real life disappearance. The book he wrote tells the story of a history teacher, Jan, who went missing after a brief affair with his student, Laura. Jan was last seen in close vicinity to the cottage where Laura and her boyfriend were staying and after his disappearance the teens were accused of murder. The novel was a tremendous success on publication. Now, after many years Mr. M is a happy man though his career is on shaky ground. He has a wife and a child and also a neighbour who takes a keen interest in his life, both public and private. But who is the neighbour and why does he stalk Mr. M?

Even though the book is a psychological mystery, I think Koch’s character development that attracts you to the novel. A few pages into the book causes an explosion of questions in your head – who is Mr. M? Who is the narrator? Who is the stalker? Why is he stalking him and more importantly, whose side should we be on? True to his style, Koch withholds information from the reader that sends him/her on a frenzy to uncover the story. However, the author proceeds with a steady pace, not a fast one, and the reader is forced to impatiently wait for the reveal of plot twists. I found this style of writing immensely enjoyable. What’s more –Mr. M’s neighbours does a critical analysis of the novel that Mr. M writes, so there is a book review and a novel in this novel.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

I am all praises for the narration in the book. There are many different POVs- the writer, the stalker, the writer’s wife and sometimes even the characters in the writer’s book.  Sometimes the book slips into an unreliable narrative style leaving the reader fumbling in the darkness. Sometimes we know at the beginning of the chapter who is narrating it; sometimes it is not obvious and we come upon the narrator as we read through the section. The characters in Dear Mr. M are addressed either as a common noun or by one letter (M, N, Q etc). Giving alphabets really helped me not to worry about the secondary characters in the plot. Only the characters in the novel that Mr. M has written are given full names. Sometimes Koch tells us the actual name of the character in an offhand manner in some later chapter, which is a relish to a careful reader. Devoid of all such extravagant additions, such as even a complete name, Dear Mr. M is pure and intense decoction of an engrossing read.

I would highly recommend the book if you like to explore writing styles. Even with many POVs, the book does not get confusing at any point. Koch shifts effortlessly between first and third person narratives, even while using an unreliable narrator. The writing is captivating and I could not wait to know how it ends. A word of caution to those who are new to Herman Koch’s writing style – The reader is never shown the whole picture; but at times Koch slips in a little more information than necessary that leaves you wanting more.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

The only thing I disliked in the novel is the way it ended. The ending did not do justice to the suspense build up in the story. However, this is Koch’s style of writing because I had felt a similar vibe when I finished reading his novel, The Dinner. So the reader doesn’t really have a choice to dislike the ending when he/she deliberately picks up the work of an author who has a marked style as such.

Final Verdict :

Herman Koch’s books are enjoyable if you care for the writing and prefer to immerse yourself in the world that he has created rather than focusing on the ‘who’ in the mystery. I loved the read and would recommend the book to those who are looking for a character driven mystery. The book is a satisfying read with an unsettling end.

Title : Dear Mr. M
Author : Herman Koch ; Translated by : Sam Garrett from the Dutch
Publisher : Hogarth
Published : 2016 (Originally 2014)
Language : English
Pages : 400
Rating : 4/5

Disclaimer : Much thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book.  All opinions are my own. 

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Dear Mr. M
This Post Has 28 Comments
  1. I’ve never read a Hermann Koch book, in spite of the fact that I’ve heard a lot of praise and he sounds just like my cup of tea. I have to try and nibble, and I’m sure I’ll get addicted.

  2. Ah, I left you a comment via my phone but clearly that did not ‘take’. Wanted to say that I’ve been meaning to read Herman Koch for ages, he sounds just like my cup of tea and so many others have recommended him, but somehow I stalled… Well, after reading your review, I checked online and my local library actually has this book, so I think I’ll pick it up later today and read it for Netherlands for my #EU27Project! Thanks for the tip!

    1. Oh that’s great. I hope you will enjoy Koch. Just do not expect a huge climax or ending, that’s all. He is a writer who focusses on character and story build up more than the ending. I will look forward to your thoughts on his writing style.

  3. Yes! Glad most of the novel was good. I really love his writing style in The Dinner but couldn’t read past a couple of pages of Summer House. Hopefully this is more like the former. Sad about the ending though.

  4. This is a lovely review! I was on the fence about this book, well I have been. I keep being drawn back, but not sure it is for me. You have convinced me with the mention of the immersive world and various PoVs. I definitely enjoy trying out and discovering authors with varying writing styles 🙂

    1. I guess the reason for opposing views is because you don’t get the kick that you expect from a crime/mystery at the end. But the book is very well written and amazes you with how it shapes up.

  5. The ending of the book bothered me so much! It totally left me hanging. And it was hard for me to keep track of what was going on because of all the POV switch ups. Besides that, I love Herman Koch’s word choice. He writes so beautifully.

  6. I loved both the earlier ones – as you say, he’s fabulous at creating characters. Even when they’re extreme, he manages to keep them credible, which kinda adds to the fascination about how awful they can be. Must get hold of this one… great review! 🙂

    1. Thank you! Exactly as you say – he makes his characters seem so real and wonderful. They have a good and dark side so they are believable. I hope you will enjoy the read when you pick it up.

  7. I haven’t actually heard of the author before Resh, but I typically struggle with multiple points of view but thrilled to hear that this isn’t the case here. It sounds so wonderfully intricate and something that would definitely keep readers on their toes. I love the aspect of a book within a book, something you don’t see often and it sounds brilliantly written. Looking forward to grabbing a copy of this one and giving it a try, wonderful review Resh, really enjoyed it <3

    1. Thank you Kelly. Herman Koch is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you get used to his style, then you will enjoy the books too. Yes, I liked how the stalker analyses the book that Mr. M writes. That seemed fun, especially since the book is part of the actual novel too.

  8. Wow! This novel sounds really fascinating. When it comes to mysteries, I like something a bit different. I often get bored with mysteries since the format is so predictable. This sounds right up my alley. I love the idea of there being mystery in multiple narrators– not only if figuring out who they are in the story, but also who is narrating within that other mystery. Did you ever find that tedious or annoying?

  9. This one is sitting near the bottom of my fiction review stack. It sounds good, although I am a little disappointed that, as you say, the ending doesn’t quite live up the suspense built up throughout the book. I can enjoy the ride, but it’s nice when the end does justice to the rest of the story.

  10. I’m a fan, but I have not read this one yet. The Dinner Party and The Swimming Pool both had me hooked from the get go. He has been playing around with different voices and unreliable narrators since he began. He’s quite good at it in my view.

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