My heart was longing for a mystery thriller for quite a long time due to my abstinence of this genre. If my memory serves me right, the last thriller I read was The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler nearly two years ago. I was immediately drawn to Dear Mr. M after reading the blurb and was reminiscing about my Sherlock Holmes binge reading days. This book is no Sherlock Holmes, but it provides plenty of nail biting moments and mystery to pique the interest of the readers. I was also drawn to the writing style of Herman Koch (of course, translated by Sam Garret) which is direct and introspective. I hope to read other books by Herman Koch very soon.
The main characters of the novel are an octogenarian has-been writer “Mr. M” and his stalker. They are connected together by an incident that happened forty years ago with two high school students and a teacher who crosses his limits with the female student. The teacher soon disappears without a trace and both the student and her boyfriend are accused of having a hand in this. M writes a fictionalised account of this incident in his hugely successful novel Payback which catapults him into limelight in the literary circle of Amsterdam. Dear Mr. M alternates between this unfortunate incident and the present life of M, incorporating more and more characters to strengthen the story and to intensify the mystery.
The book is structured as different sections with different points of view of narration. The mood of the novel also varies vastly in each section. The first section, Teacher Mortality, narrated by the stalker, is both foreboding and menacing and reveals bitter contempt and deep dislike towards M. Every aspect of M, from his appearance to his writing, is heavily criticised and ridiculed in this part –
“I can imagine that a writer’s gaze is mostly directed inward, but then you shouldn’t try to describe faces in your books. Descriptions of faces are quite obsolete, actually, as are descriptions of landscapes, so it all makes sense as far as that goes. Because you too are quite obsolete, and I mean that not only in terms of age—a person can be old but not nearly obsolete—but you are both: old and obsolete.”
The second section is the narration of the life of a writer and it provides insights to the working of his mind, the vanities and weaknesses of authors and their struggle with mediocrity. The next major narrative is from the point of view of a high school student. Even though the writing is intelligent and reflective, this part gets slightly stagnant with unnecessary details of the life of a teenager. Their relationship woes and family troubles are all poured into the book thereby slightly diverting it from the main theme. The other major views in the book are that of the teacher who fills the pages with his despair and dejection and M’s wife, who gives her views as an outsider on the duplicity of the life of writers.
Overall, Dear Mr. M is a worthy read which can boast of excellent writing and a meticulously thought out plot. How much ever we channelise our inner detective to figure out the ending of the book, I can guarantee you that Herman Koch will still be able to surprise your socks off with the unique climax! This book has all the three elements needed to completely entertain the readers – characters, narration and the language skills to tie it all together. This book definitely made me a fan of Herman Koch and I hope you will be too after reading it.
Favourite Quote : “He has never understood why people would want to borrow a book. All right, maybe because they don’t have a lot of money, but there are so many things you might choose to deny yourself for lack of money. He himself finds it filthy, a borrowed book. Not as filthy as sleeping in a hotel where the sheets haven’t been changed and you’re forced to lie among the last guest’s hair and flakes of skin. A book with wine spots and a crushed insect between the pages, with the grains of sand from the last reader’s holiday falling out as you read.”
Favourite Character : Herman
This precocious teenager with his antics in school and his vision for his future provides a memorable yet unconventional character.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for review and this has not influenced my opinion about the book.