Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch – Stalking An Author
12th February, 2017
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?
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.
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.
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.
Are you a fan of Herman Koch’s writing?