Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

This book takes the form of a letter written to an author who wrote a book about a crime that may or may not have happened.  The author of the letter writing to the author of the book may or may not have perpetrated the crime that may or may not have happened.

I have a theory that all works of fiction can be put in one of two categories.  There are books written for readers and there are books written for writers.  Each category includes romances and coming of age stories and science fiction and every other genre of fiction.  Each category includes books that are engaging, books with well developed characters, interesting premises, and beautifully rendered settings.  Books in each category can lack all of these things as well.  Books in the latter category, those that are written for writers or perhaps just for the writer, are a little too impressed with their own cleverness.  They tend to rely too heavily on the literary structure.  Sometimes this works well.  A nice example is The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  It is artfully structured and a very engaging read.  At other times, however, these structures can detract from my ability to suspend disbelief and to engage with the story.  Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell is one example.  Almost anything by Mark Z. Danielewski also fits in this category.  Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is one that treads the line for me.  It is simultaneously exquisite and a bit too clever, leaving me conflicted.

All of this rambling has a point, I think (obviously my writing is for neither writers nor readers since it lacks structure and possibly sense).  My point is that Dear Mr. M mostly missed the boat with this reader.  It is divided into several sections, each with a distinct style.  The first section is so meta that I almost didn’t read on.  A book in the form of a letter to an author of a book… i was more annoyed than anything.  And the writer (of the letter) was being intentionally obtuse, failing to make a point, any point, for over 80 pages.

I am a reader with rituals and routines and failing to finish a book disrupts those rituals and routines. It is very difficult for me to leave a book unfinished.  So, I read on and found that the story got more interesting, but not nearly interesting enough.

A list of things that just didn’t sit right about this book:

  • Apparently in Holland writers are as famous as the Kardashians are in America.
  • Teenagers have very little parental supervision  and can go on living in their dead parent’s apartment with now obvious source of income.
  • The police have all the agency of the keystone cops.
  • The male characters all think a little too highly of themselves.
  • The female characters are just accessories.
  • I just don’t care for “meta” books.

So ends my structureless rant.

I am keeping a complete list of the books I read in 2016 here.  I’m always looking for suggestions.



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