Koch’s Distinct Style Makes Dear Mr. M A Winner, Despite Plot Inconsistencies

Dear Mr. M, Herman KochFiction
Released September 6, 2016
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Hogarth) via NetGalley


While Dear Mr. M‘s politically incorrect social commentary, dislikable characters, and somewhat meandering nature mean it’s not for everyone, Koch’s distinctive writing style make it a winner for me despite some plot inconsistencies. And, its divisive nature would make it a fantastic book club selection.

Plot Summary

M, an aging writer riding on the long-ago success of his bestselling novel based on the true story of a teacher’s murder involving two of his students (Payback) piques the stalker-ish interest of his neighbor, leading to a revisit of the crime at the center of M’s novel.

Why I Read It

I loved Koch’s breakthrough novel, The Dinner. While I didn’t love his follow-up (Summer House With Swimming Pool) nearly as much, Koch is an author whose distinct writing style will make me at least try every book he writes.

What I Liked

  • While I didn’t love Dear Mr. M quite as much as The Dinner, it came dang close. And I thought it ran circles around Summer House With Swimming Pool.
  • Dear Mr. M employs one of my favorite literary devices: the mystery or crime that provides suspense, but is not at the center of the story. The prospect of finding out what happened to the teacher at the center of Payback certainly kept me turning the pages, but it’s more of a catalyst to explore human behavior and emotions.
  • Dear Mr. M is a style book…and Koch’s style is odd and often uncomfortable, but it is incredibly distinct. I adore his writing (and particularly his social commentary), but he’s certainly not for everyone. He’s a master at putting uncomfortable thoughts that the average reader would likely keep hidden front and center.

When someone has been ill for a long time, there’s always a sense of relief when it’s over. Relief on behalf of the sick person who no longer has to suffer, but above all on your own behalf. It’s difficult to admit, especially at the age I was then, but I felt an enormous relief because everything could finally be cleared out of the house. The curtains could be opened again to let in the light. This is where my life begins, I thought to myself. My new life. My life free of sickbeds.

  • Sometimes that commentary is tinged with political incorrectness (i.e. sexism and ageism make appearances in Dear Mr. M). But, it’s refreshing that Koch isn’t afraid to allow his characters to be politically incorrect on the page, even if I don’t agree with the specific viewpoints. 

A writer doesn’t have to do anything, of course. All a writer has to do is write books. But a lovely, young wife can help him do that. Especially when that wife is completely self-effacing; the kind who spreads her wings over his talent like a mother hen and chases away anyone who comes too close to the nest; who tiptoes around the house when he’s working in his study and only slides a cup of tea or a plate of chocolates through a crack in the doorway at fixed times; […] because his mind, after all, is brimming over with things that she, with her limited body of thought – her limited feminine body of thought – could never fathom anyway.

  • The story is told through multiple perspectives and shifting timelines. You see flashbacks to the long-ago lives of the two students involved in the teacher’s murder and their friends, which some reviewers thought distracted from the real story. I liked these sections as they painted vivid pictures of the personalities and dynamics of the group, which better enabled me to understand how the crime ends up playing out. Plus, these sections reminded me a bit of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings!

What I Didn’t Like

  • Parts of the book meander a bit and it takes awhile for the story to find its direction…it could’ve been shorter and tighter.
  • I’m still scratching my head over why exactly M’s neighbor felt compelled to stalk M. There is lots of ambiguity here, as the most logical explanations can be eliminated based on details provided in the book or just seem too farfetched.

Good for People Who Like…

Social commentary, dislikable characters, writer’s life, crime that’s not the center of the story, gorgeous writing, dark stories, creepiness

Other Books You May Like

Contains a mystery or crime, which is not the center of the story:
Shelter by Jung Yun

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Uncomfortable Social Commentary:
The Dinner by Herman Koch

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  1. Kay wrote:

    I still need to read The Dinner. It’s on my Kindle. And I’m hearing good things about this one. I’ll get around to them at some point. And I need to pull out The Interestings because I have a print copy of that one.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I’d read The Dinner before this one..it’s shorter and tighter and will give you a great taste of Koch’s very distinct style. You’ll know from that whether he’s for you or not.

      And I loved The Interestings…definitely read that one!

      Posted 9.6.16 Reply
  2. I’ve never read this author but obviously need to.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      As long as you don’t mind dark stories and totally jerky characters…and an appreciation for social commentary helps too!

      Posted 9.6.16 Reply
  3. Lauren wrote:

    I love Koch and The Interestings is one of my favorites, so now I *really* can’t wait to get to this one.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      HA! Good combo…I think you’ll like this one then.

      Posted 9.6.16 Reply
  4. I enjoyed both The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool, so will certainly give this a try. There are SO many September books I want to read!

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      September is ridiculously crowded, right?! I liked this one so much more than Swimming Pool, so hopefully it’ll work for you too.

      Posted 9.6.16 Reply
  5. Michelle wrote:

    I LOVED The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool. This one I didn’t love. It kept putting me to sleep, for one. Then I have issues with what exactly the point of the story was. Was it the neighbor stalking the author? Was it the long-ago murder mystery? I really struggled to finish the story and closed the book the final time with a sense of relief and a bit of confusion as to what I just read. Highly disappointing IMO because I tore through his other novels.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I agree that the plot was sort of muddled at times, but his writing style just overrode that for me. I kind of didn’t care as much that the point of the book wasn’t obvious because I was just reveling in his social observations.

      But, I could tell as I was reading it that opinions would probably be all over the place with this one!

      Posted 9.6.16 Reply
  6. Madeline wrote:

    My library has the Spanish version of but not yet the English. Oh well, this is California!

    I enjoyed “The Dinner.” Hard to say “loved it” because there wasn’t much lovable about it. Thought provoking: absolutely.

    I read a sample of “Summer House with Swimming Pool” and was definitely intrigued. Went on the wish list.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
  7. Oh goodness, I’m super interested in this one, but I’m also afraid it might annoy me haha. I guess there’s no way to find out how I like it other than jumping right into it.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      It’s certainly one I expect to get wildly divergent feedback, but you’ll probably know in the first 30 pages whether it’s for you or not, so give it a try!

      Posted 9.7.16 Reply
  8. Loved The Dinner, didn’t really care for Summer House. I’m intrigued enough to pick this one up to see how it compares to his two previous novels.

    Posted 9.6.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I felt the same about his previous two! Give it a try!

      Posted 9.7.16 Reply
  9. Catherine wrote:

    After seeing this, I’m not sure why I would even bother writing a buddy-duddy review. You get to the heart of the matter! I especially love the Other Books section because it is spot-on about Shelter. If that novel had stuck with the crime I might not have found it so meh/odd.

    Sad to say, Koch has now fallen out of my ‘will always read them’ file. I could not reconcile the missing pieces in this even with his curmudgeonly style.

    Posted 9.8.16 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Buddy-duddy?!! That’s the perfect name for your idea! Write it!

      Posted 9.9.16 Reply
      • Catherine wrote:

        LOL- curse auto-correct!! I typed fuddy-duddy and of course it didn’t like that. I still mean that your review is much more creative than anything I would do.

        Posted 9.10.16 Reply

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