May 16, 2016

Herman Koch at AWF 2016: Hearts of Darkness

Ana from Readers Services remembers "The dinner" as one of the reads which got the most thumbs-ups from the members of the Central City Library book club -- it may even have been unanimous, though that doesn't sound like a book club worth its salt, which "her" book club certainly is. Here she tells us about seeing the author of "The dinner" live at the Writers Festival.

author photo credit Mark Kohn, Hollandse Hoogte

Herman Koch came across as really nice, funny, and very natural. From time to time we got little nuggets of information about him. He told us his wife was Spanish, and that when he was in Colombia recently, he saw his books (in Spanish) in the shop windows, and was thrilled. We also learned that he has Asperger's, like some of the protagonists of his novels.

His book The Dinner was introduced by session chair Stephanie Johnson as a satire, and indeed, it is a satire of bourgeois attitudes, and it is brutal. The aspect of autism and Asperger's cropped up immediately and the novel was compared by Johnson to We need to talk about Kevinas the children (but also the father) obviously lacked empathy and were, like Kevin, completely indifferent to the suffering they inflict on other people. The children in The Dinner don’t take any responsibility for their actions and let their parents arrange everything for them. Furthermore, the parents are delighted to do so.

Herman Koch didn’t really want to elaborate much on the Asperger's aspect. He thinks it is a complex issue and lends itself to misunderstandings. However, there was quite a lot of laughter as Herman Koch confessed he had Asperger's. Apparently he had problems when he was at school and was sent, with his parent’s consent, to a psychologist for a series of sessions. He poured out his feelings and confessions about everything that was bothering him to the psychologist in the first session, but when he phoned for a second appointment, he found out that the psychologist had died.

The discussion passed to his second book Summer House with Swimming Pool, which is even bleaker than The Dinner. Critics labelled it a black comedy. Black comedy and satire seem to be Herman Koch’s trademark. Koch said he had a lot of fun writing it. The doctor in the novel is repulsed by the human body and some critics are saying that the book is making fun of the medical profession. Herman Koch says his doctor was always a bit worried about him, because he is a writer. When Koch finished the novel and went to give him a copy as a present, the doctor told him he had already bought one and read it – he was suspicious of having made an appearance in the book and wanted to check.

The setting of the novel is France, where a Dutch family have bought a house where they go to spend the holidays. The French hate the Dutch: Koch explained that when the Dutch go on holiday they take everything from home - even the potatoes and margarine, so the camping ground managers, as well as everybody else, know they won’t make any money from them.

Koch's latest novel will be released in a few months. It’s called Dear Mr M. and guess what? Its distinctive feature is black humour. As in his other novels, an ominous threat runs all through the book. He describes it as “musings on writing”. Koch does not like the modern or postmodern style of writing where the author calls attention to her or himself, or to the story. They can write well, he says, but the story is not interesting. He goes back to 19th century writers like Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Chekhov where, he says, you are in the story. He thinks the writer should be completely forgotten by the reader.

I found it a bit disappointing that he didn’t elaborate very much on his novels as I would have liked to know his opinion on several passages; but he made up for this by his great sense of humour and simply by being himself.

-- Ana

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 18:40


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