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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Dear Mr. M: A Novel

On a list somewhere, Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch came up as a book to read if you loved another one. Can’t remember the details, but I did remember to get this from the library. Since I was a fan of The Dinner, I ran to get this from the library. It came out in 2016, but it’s new to me! 

I’m not even sure how to begin to describe this story in terms of blurb-ing it. The narrator is an older man now, but he was once I high school student madly in love with the most gorgeous girl. That girl had an affair with her teacher who suddenly went missing one snowy day when he went to visit the couple at her parents’ vacation home. A famous author wrote a novel based on these events, and now our narrator has found himself inserted in the author’s world. Who tells our truths, and what is the author’s role in a story? Is it to tell the truth, or is it to tell the most compelling story he can? 

This book was mind-bogglingly good. It was a slow burn; there wasn’t anything about it that made me rush through the pages. Instead, I was captivated by the detail of the story and who the characters were. Koch is the most interesting writer; he has this way of writing thrillers that don’t have you biting your nails, but rather furrowing your brow and changing your plans so you can keep poring over his words. The devil is quite in the detail in his work, and you keep pushing through because the end will be worth it. In this case, that was absolutely true. The book ends on such a quiet note that it’s explosive in the brain. 

I absolutely hated M, the writer. (Koch does this thing where very few people have names and instead are called by the first initial of their last name.) I recognize that this was Koch’s point; he’s not supposed to be likeable. It makes the last half of the story go down smoother. But I absolutely hated him. He was a heinous person both in and out, and it made me question the character is his much younger wife. She wasn’t the focus of the story though, so I could let that go. However, I say this as a testament to Koch’s character development, because if I hate a character that much, he must be written very well. I also wanted to hate the narrator — even as a boy he is not presented in a good light — and I just couldn’t. Try as I might, I couldn’t hate him. Koch has developed these characters within an inch of their fictitious lives, and it’s a glorious read. 

This is a book you must commit to. It isn’t a beach read, wherein you can whip through it in a matter of hours. I described it earlier as a “slow burn,” and that’s exactly what it is. But once you are in, you will be hooked. Koch has a lot in store for you, and you won’t like everyone you meet on your journey. You won’t even know who is writing, “Dear Mr. M” until the very end. But it will hurt so good, as it were. Promise promise. 

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