#4: Dear Mr. M // Herman Koch

Fiction | Paperback | 400 pages

I've been on a fiction binge this month, as I tend to do when work gets hectic and the brainpower required for reading non-fiction begins to make it feel like more work. Thus, the my 4th read of 2017 brought me to the Dutch writer Herman Koch's Dear Mr. M, my first read by this author. Here's what I thought.

First of all, have a look at the blurb:

Fascinating, right? That's what I thought, at first. 

You see that there are a number of questions posed:

  • What's the narrator's interest in Mr. M?
  • What is the narrator planning?

Based on the interesting book jacket (after all, I'd had good luck with The Watchmaker of Filigree Street) and the blurb which only teases at the plot, I'd really wanted to like this book. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.


Let me save you 400 pages of trouble

Spoiler alert: You're not going to be happy with the answers to the questions above. In fact, you'll be left frustrated because there are so many more unanswered questions raised by the plot, characters you never hear from again despite being central to the story, and a fairly dissatisfying ending.

There's also all the exposition around Mr. M, despite the fact that he's the least interesting or sympathetic character in the book. While the narrator is the one driving the story, I was sorely disappointed to realize as I reached page 400 that Mr. M was the main character after all. 

Leaps through time

Besides the unsatisfactory plot, my major issue with Dear Mr. M was the structure. I'm very glad I didn't listen to it as an audiobook, as the constant change of person was frustrating. One chapter is first person from the perspective of the narrator, and the next it's third person description of one of the numerous characters. Then there are the frequent leaps through time, and the unclear ages of the various characters. If you're someone who is regularly heard saying "Wait, what?" at time or perspective jumps in movies, this book will drive you crazy.

You guessed it:

I cannot recommend this book

Between the fragmented structure, the boring outcome, and the fact that this story was entirely too long, I really cannot suggest this book to anyone unless perhaps it's in the original Dutch. Given the success of Herman Koch, my guess is that there's a reason he has a following, and perhaps that reason has gotten lost in the translation of Dear. Mr. M. Then there's that misleading blurb. 

Based on reviews I've read since finishing this novel, perhaps you can consider looking up some of Koch's earlier works, which numerous reviewers emphasized were much better than this book. As for me, I should probably stop being taken in by interesting cover designs

(PS: The header photo was edited with the PicCollage app, made by a Taiwanese startup!)