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Summer House with Swimming Pool

I’m not sure this has ever happened to me.

There have been times when an author has left a story open-ended, and the reader is allowed to argue (during a book club, let’s say) the ending.  More often, there is a clearly defined ending, and people are left only to argue whether or not they think the ending fit with the story.  But this is the first time when there has been a clear ending to a book; an ending that everyone else seems to get… and I closed the book having no clue what happened.

I mean, literally, no clue.

So in asking about this book, I will need to talk about the ending of this book.  Stop reading if you plan on reading Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool.

I mean it, stop.

I’m even putting a little space here between the fact that there will be spoilers and the spoilers themselves so you can click off the screen.

Click away.

Good.  Everyone else still here has either read the book or simply doesn’t care that the ENTIRE END OF THE BOOK WILL BE RUINED.

I warned you.

So the story ends with Ralph dead due to Marc’s actions.  We’re told Marc performs the botched biopsy in order to kill Ralph because he suspects him as the rapist.  Ralph confesses to Marc on his deathbed the stuff about the repairman and how Julia faked the rape.  Then we have the bizarre Stanley and the fact that Marc would fly his daughter out there for the photos.  And then we have the fact that Marc is looking at his little girl as a woman, and all of his talk about child molesters.


Was Ralph telling the truth about the repairman or did he make up that story because he was the rapist?  Or because Alex was the rapist?

Or is this straightforward: the repairman was the rapist?

Or is Stanley the rapist and Ralph knew so he gave Marc that red herring?

Or is Marc the rapist, and the whole book has been a red herring?  Because his behaviour, especially not pursing the rapist in the moment, felt odd to me.

I closed the book completely unclear on what the author wanted me to think, which is — perhaps — a problem with the story.  This book didn’t feel open-ended.  It feels as if one of those options above is the one the author wants us to believe by the last page.  The problem is that I’m not sure which one.

Did I like the book?  Yes… I think?  Enough that I got another one of his books out of the library before I finished this one.  But… disturbed me too?  What did everyone else think of it?


1 Queenie { 07.06.14 at 1:46 am }

I have no idea, but maybe I will read the book just to see.

Am really stopping by to say that I just finished your new book, and loved it. I think I like Arianna better than Rachel…or maybe I could just relate to her more. But also, I have been reading you for so long that I’ve watched you develop as a writer, and I think this is your best work yet. Congrat’s on the milestone. It’s so inspirational.

And also, such a sweet shout out to Josh at the end. Although the one to Truman has to be the best of all time. It totally made me laugh that he made the book.

2 Tiara { 07.07.14 at 8:14 am }

Okay, I stopped reading…but seriously, the suspense & not knowing is killing me!! Now I HAVE to read this book just to know the ending!!

3 Sheralee { 07.14.14 at 10:18 am }

Oh my god, I have no idea either! Glad it’s not just me…
I’m assuming it was the Repairman because of the scratches…maybe?

4 Wendy { 07.27.14 at 8:41 pm }

I was left annoyed and totally baffled as well . . . won’t be reading another by this author. It is too bad because I had read such good reviews and decided to give it a whirl . . Felt like a waste of time 🙁

5 Heidi { 07.28.14 at 1:22 pm }

I’m a little over halfway through the book and can’t WAIT to come back and read this entry again when I’m done. Totally engrossed in the book; I can’t say I’m “enjoying” it, because I’m nauseated the entire time I’m reading it and thinking about it, but there is no way I would stop now.

6 Heidi { 07.30.14 at 9:26 am }

OK, done now. I agree that there are a lot of gray areas in the resolution (such as it is). I want to read some reviews of the book to see what others have said about it. Here’s my interpretation: Ralph is telling the truth. Yes, the repairman did it. However, both Ralph and Stanley have created the atmosphere of sexualization that contributed to the situation. (And the father is far from innocent in this, too.) In the end, the father just gives in to it–hence the finale, with the family jetting off to Santa Barbara and Stanley. The other question about the ending is what happened to the campground owner, run off the road by Stanley? We find out that his animals end up in the village zoo, since they appear in some of Stanley’s photos taken after the doctor’s family leaves post-rape. Are we supposed to believe that the campground owner died? But there was an earlier reference to Marc taking down the number of the zoo, just in case–what’s with that? However, I think we just have to gather that Marc doesn’t want to know what happened; he, and we, can make guesses, but not knowing confers a certain kind of hazy innocence.

7 kendra { 08.07.14 at 2:11 pm }

Me too! I am just confused. Glad I am not the only one.

8 Lori P { 08.11.14 at 4:43 pm }

Here’s what I think. The daughter was not raped–she faked the rape but had sex with the repairman willingly. Remember, she called Alex a baby and wanted older men. And Ralph said she faked the amnesia because she didn’t want anyone mad at her. And based on the fact that she was so sexualized so young…I’d say she was being molested by her father. He didn’t want anyone else touching HIS girl. But she was “outgrowing” him. He allows her to model because he’s going to need the money. All the men were pigs, I thought. Ralph, Stanley and Mark. All of them liked the young girls. None of them appreciated their wives/girlfriend. The zoo thing is just weird. I think we’re supposed to assume that the campground manager is dead–the car wreck did him in–or Mark did him in somehow and Mark had all the animals transferred to the zoo. Mark would like it all tidied up like that. If you think this book is disturbing, his Dinner Conversation book is disturbing too! He likes to play with people making very selfish, bad choices and giving in to their basest desires and instincts.

9 Sonia Gueory { 08.15.14 at 12:25 pm }

First, let me say I like Herman Koch’s writing, it keeps me reading. His characters are definitely despicable, morbidity keeps you reading. I don’t think Marc raped his daughter, he was not into little girls, he noticed their sexuality, but was not into them, hence his attraction to Judith.

Ralph, very unlikeable and nasty, didn’t do it as they were also too young for his tastes (pre-pubescent). Plus, he was hurt when Marc kicked him and no way could have run and done that. You think he would have done it out of spite cause Marc kicked him? Too petty even for him.

Stanley, no, he likes em young but again, not THAT young. He would like to make money off them in picture though.

The repairman…….when Julia see a picture of him in the end, she doesn’t flinch, look away, nothing.

Alex, his personality, didn’t give away that he could rape.

Faked it? Aghhhhhh!!! Thought I was getting somewhere and ended up nowhere!!! HELP!!

10 Michele { 09.01.14 at 11:08 am }

Thanks, for your thoughts in the above mentioned book, I too was a little disturbed and had to look up who raped the daughter, hence this is how I found your website. I am still up in the air, and everything you questioned was in my mind., too.
Still not sure if I (enjoyed), not correct word, reading this or not.
I bookmarked your website as I found it very interesting.
Thank you

11 Sweet Sue { 09.10.14 at 1:23 pm }

What I need to know is did Marc murder Judith with a lethal injection? It read as if he did; if so, why isn’t there an international manhunt for the Killer Doctor?
Instead, he’s happily ensconced in Cali with his wife and two kids, one of whom is about to become supermodel.

12 CW { 10.06.14 at 9:20 pm }

I feel really dumb right now! I’m asking myself all the above questions, and more. First I thought the ending was going to be his creepy professor giving him the heads-up and allowing him to escape (unsatisfying). When Judith came to the office to complain about Marc avoiding her, I thought he was going to get away with everything by pretending to be in love with her so she would drop the issue (still un satisfying). If the book ended at either of those points, it would have been merely disappointing, but that last chapter seemed to just make the whole thing baffling! What the heck?

13 Diana { 12.19.14 at 8:43 pm }

I think Ralph lied and he is the rapist and is part of a group of very clever pedophiles, Stanley etc – they manage to do what they do with children of parents who are so self-obsessed that they can’t see what is really happening. Marc is so naive, believing all the stories told to him by creepy blokes – my puzzle is where Caroline is while all this is happening and why she doesn’t have the wit to stop it!

14 traci { 07.08.15 at 10:58 pm }

Love this post! I had mostly the same questions about the end. Since the girl didn’t flinch about the repair man, it made me think he was not the rapist. OR maybe the daughter was scheming all around with the fake “amnesia”? She clearly knew how to work it….What I do know is no character was without excessive flaws (except perhaps the younger sister.) I think he just slept with Judith at the end. What I’m MOST confused about is the last page about the zoo, the donkey, the llama….I feel like there is key detail there I missed from earlier?!? Anyone else notice that or catch anything from the comments made. It made me think, whatever I missed, implicated Stanley? But that’s the deal with this new trend of “unreliable narrators….” what can you trust? Marc is so comfortable exposing so many flaws, but that weird 1% of child abusers referred to with his previous professor was so strange…..hmmm…happy it didn’t all “tie it up,” but frustrated i enjoyed so much of it, but was irritated but what appeared to be some random side-tracks (which were then probably important to the story line) SO weird the guy in the car ended up disappearing. What’s most frustrating is I’m sure the author tied it all together — think it might need a reread?!?!?

15 B. { 08.07.15 at 5:18 pm }

I too find myself here after Googling for answers.

The ending…….what?
I do not know who raped her. I took Ralph’s deathbed story to mean that Julia left the club with the handyman wanting to fool around or make out – experimenting with a dangerous older man – then he raped her, violently enough that she was hurt. If she had had sex willingly she would have had no reason to play unconscious; she could have gotten up and walked back to the family, right? She must have been visibly bruised/bleeding, and told Alex to pretend he had lost her.

Not to say I necessarily believe that , just that is how I took it.

So many implausible things. Really, after all the questioning and suspicions about your daughter’s rape, you decide the Hollywood dude old enough to be her grandfather really was just planning t surprise you with your pubescent daughters’ sultry modeling portfolios?! And your reaction is hey, great idea?!

And the professor on the medical committee? Let me get this straight… you are reviewing a malpractice suit involving a doctor who was your student thirty years ago. Back then, you told students that it is not morally wrong to kill pedophiles. Thus, your former student’s error obviously means the dead patent must have been a pedophine.. Obviously!

I realize you are all long gone, but no one I know has read this and I have to talk about it! If anyone does read this, have any of you read Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes? I was baffled at that ending as well.


16 Deeksha { 10.04.15 at 5:52 am }

I too came here looking for answers. I finished reading yesterday but have no idea what happened there. It felt so dumb.

I thought maybe I should reread the last 2 chapters but then it is pretty disturbing the first time, do not want another go. I wish someone really explained what happened there.

17 Shachar { 09.21.16 at 4:06 pm }

I’m confused too, and that there was something obvious I missed. Apparently not.
My take is that the repairman did rape Julia – too many signs show that it’s true, including Julia’s condition that whole year after.
Regarding the campground owner – he mistreated the animals and somehow got punished for it in a way we don’t understand. It’s like his absence compensates for the lack of punishment for the rape. Ralph’s death is also some compensation, for being such a beast. For Julia’s sake, the real rapist is not revealed (not by her) so she can heal slowly and quietly.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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