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A Review of Dear Mr. M. by Herman Koch

Dutch novelist Herman Koch
In the Dutch writer Herman Koch's latest novel in translation, Dear Mr. M, there is a character named Herman; a charismatic but troubled youth, budding filmmaker, Svengali. Is he meant to represent the author himself? Maybe we'll never know, perhaps it's not even relevant, but it adds another layer of mystery to the reader's understanding of Koch's story. Mr M of the title is an aging novelist who, we learn, has a few secrets. He was the highly regarded author of the major best-seller, Payback, but that was forty years ago. Now he's got a new book out and a new fan as well.

Koch stratifies his tale in time and point of view. The young Herman chronicles his schooldays as an influential, almost cult-like figure. revealing an obsession with his alluring classmate, Laura. Their young and fatally hip teacher, Jan Landzaat plots his own destiny among the teenagers, a famous destiny that the budding writer M exploits in his true crime best-seller. And forty years later we hear from the elderly author as well as from his unnamed new-found stalker. But let's not forget there is also the author, K, who necessarily lurks somewhere outside the dimensions of this novel; whose weight imprints the work.

By presenting his subject matter this way, Herman Koch seems to be saying more about the craft of storytelling; the manipulation of plot and character, style and language. Is it what we say or what we do not say in the writing process which is more revealing to the reader? What's real? What's true? And are they the same?, Mr K seems to ask. Is perception our only reality?, asks Mr. M. Truth may never be enough to to tell a good story or to sell books. So to be successful one must embellish, change a detail here and there, explore an alternative point of view, what does it matter so long as it is an entertaining tale.

~ 4.2 stars

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