Another reviewer on Goodreads titled his review, “Koch grows as a novelist, but loses impact,” and I thought that was the perfect way to summarize my thoughts on Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch.
Mr M is being watched. As a famous writer, he is no stranger to the limelight, although interest in his work has been dwindling of late. His print runs are smaller than they used to be, and so are the crowds at his bookshop signings. But there is someone still interested in Mr M and keeping an extremely close eye on him—someone whose own story bears more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Mr M’s bestselling thriller, in which a teacher has an affair with a student, only to be brutally murdered by the girl and her teenage boyfriend. In Mr M’s book, the body is never found—but in real life, bodies have an awkward habit of turning up.
When I first read the synopsis, I thought this story would fall well within the thriller genre - but I felt that part of the story was kind of lost. I found the story unnecessarily complicated. It’s details and layers of intricacy dilute the storyline of the stalker who is writing to “Mr. M.” There were times when I really had no idea where the story was going - not necessarily in a good way. The result was something that was interesting, yet much less impactful than I have come to expect from Koch.
This book really starts off strong, as told from the viewpoint of M’s downstairs neighbor, writing to him as he watches M live out his so-called “mediocre” life as a once-successful author. It almost has the same feel as You by Caroline Kepnes. The excitement grows as our narrator begins stalking M’s wife, as well, following her to her summer home in another city. Just as we’re at the height of our tension, the narration changes over to M. And frankly, I don’t think the story ever reaches that level of literary tension again.
Now that I have that out of the way, I will say this story is beautifully written. Koch writes so eloquently and observantly that it’s hard not to get sucked in - even when you don’t necessarily know where you are being lead. In parts of the story, it felt as if Koch were using his characters as a means to inject commentary on a variety of topics. Sometimes this is smartly done and extremely enjoyable, other times you begin to wonder…
This is a story that is extremely intricate - it has a lot of moving parts. If you love slowly peeling back layers to reveal what really happened, with a few bits of social commentary sprinkled in along the way, then this is the book for you. I think a lot of people will really enjoy this novel, but it just wasn’t my favorite.
*Thank you to Hogarth and Blogging for Books for sending me this in exchange for my honest review.*