Hogarth/Penguin Random House: 9/6/16
uncorrected proof; 400 pages
Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch is a highly recommended novel about a novel based on real events.
H is the downstairs neighbor who loathes M, the novelist who moved into his apartment building a little less than a year ago and lives above him. H is keep a close eye on M, his very young wife, Ana, and daughter. Clearly his attentions to M seem to be malevolent, even before H makes it clear to the reader that he is not one of M's characters; he is a real flesh and blood person on whom a writer has loosely based a character. How implausible and quite the coincidence that M is now living above H. Perhaps some form of payback is in order.
M is an aging author whose popularity has been waning for years. Forty years ago he wrote one book that still sells and is actively in print, Payback. The novel was based on real events: two teens were accused of killing a teacher who had an affair with one of them. No body was ever found.
Koch begins strong, with H as the narrator. Then the novel switches to alternating points of view and the recounting of real events that happened in the past. Narrators include M, Herman and Laura (the teens), and the teacher. The real events surrounding the disappearance of the teacher in the past combined with current events that make a general uneasiness, along with the tension, rise. No one can be trusted as they all have rather pernicious motives and behaviors, which will leave you feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
The backstory of H, who is Herman, one of the teens M ostensibly wrote about, overwhelms the current story of M until the very end. The end itself is wonderfully clever and shocking.
Dear Mr. M is translated into English from Koch's native Dutch. I found the writing to be astute and inventive. Koch has an acerbic sense of humor and presents a keen perspective on the human condition. While the opening narrative from H clearly grabs your attention because of the sheer maliciousness he feels, the later narrators round out the story with their revelations and make it a more complex and layered tale.
Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House via Library Thing for review purposes.