I wouldn't describe them as pigs, everything they do is just so very human

Herman Koch is a Dutch writer. Summer House With Swimming Pool is his second novel translated in English.

Why did you choose to use the first-person narrative in your novel Summer House With Swimming Pool?

I like first person narrators who are not too aware of how they behave. We, the readers, in the end know them better than they know themselves.

A constant tension pervades the novel. How did you build this tension? Did you have a particular writing process?

Most of the time I work from day to day, from chapter to chapter, not knowing too much about what comes next. I think this process can be contagious to the reader, who doesn’t feel manipulated by the writer, but is actually just as curious as the writer about what will happen next.

How do you work with delicate subjects such as hypocrisy?

I try to give the voice to the hypocrite, his or her point of view. In that way, hypocrisy unmasks itself, instead of being criticized from the outside.

Marc is a doctor and often praises himself for having the objective outlook of a doctor, not the emotional outlook of a father or a husband, and yet he seems to find most bodies repulsive. Was it important for you to have a very judgmental person as a narrator?

Yes, he thinks he is in control most of the time. But of course he is not. His emotions always win from this objective doctor’s outlook. But by being judgmental, he has a reasonable opinion from time to time, one that we might even agree with.

Your most recent novels depict a rather wealthy social class. When we think about this topic in literature, we are more likely to think about 19th century literature. Do you think there are any worthy 20th or even 21st century novels that depicted this social class in particular?

My big examples were always the 19th century Russians, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoevsky. Today I find this treatment of the wealthy classes in novels by American writers mostly, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides in particular.

In the novel, men are described as pigs by the main protagonist, who can also fit in this category as the story unfolds. Did you enjoy writing this merciless description?

Yes I did, particularly because our doctor is one himself. I wouldn’t describe him (or them) as pigs though, everything they do is just so very human.

You used to work as a columnist. What does this type of work bring to your fiction writing?

The knowledge that I can write 500 words in an hour. Before starting as a columnist I thought I needed the whole day.