Book Talk: Novelist, comedian Koch decries loss of risk-taking

Thu Mar 6, 2014 3:07am EST
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By Thomas Escritt

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch writer and comedian Herman Koch's novel "Summerhouse with Swimming Pool" follows hot on the heels of "The Dinner", a study of racism, madness and death in an outwardly respectable middle-class family which proved a surprise international hit.

Due to be published in English in June, "Summerhouse with Swimming Pool" tells the story of a wealthy, successful and embittered doctor who treats everybody who is anybody in Amsterdam's cultural elite. It is written with the same savage humor that made its predecessor such a success.

"The Dinner", already a film in Dutch, is in the early stages of being made into a Hollywood movie directed by Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who won the best actress Oscar on Sunday for her role in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine".

Koch spoke to Reuters at the Hague Writers Unlimited Festival about "The Dinner," his subsequent novels, and how he looks back nostalgically at the risk-taking, smoking days of his youth.

Q: What was it about "The Dinner" that you think made it so popular around the world?

A: Parents are always curious about what their children are up to when they're not around. It's universal for parents to ask themselves how drunk their daughter is when she's not with them. We're also always curious about people's hidden lives: the next-door neighbor with the cats might seem very nice. But maybe he's a serial killer or something?

Q: Are you exploring themes that are specifically Dutch or are they more universal?

A: These themes are particularly easy to explore in the Netherlands, where most forms of discrimination are such a taboo that people are reluctant to talk about them. I was playing with the idea of a politically correct Social Democrat politician who suddenly found that his principles are put to the test in his private life - what does he do?   Continued...