The Ditch by Herman Koch

The Ditch

Herman Koch

Written with Herman Koch’s trademark originality, playfulness, and edge, The Ditch is a wildly clever–and familiar–story of a man whose sadistic skill for undermining himself and his marriage comes to cost him nearly everything.

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The bracing and inventive new novel of suspicions and secrecy from Herman Koch, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dinner

When Robert Walter, popular mayor of Amsterdam, sees his wife toss her head back with laughter while chatting to one of his aldermen at a New Year's reception, he immediately suspects the worst. Despite their long and happy marriage, Robert is convinced that Sylvia is cheating on him--with the respectable alderman who is dedicated to the environment, no less. The man who wants to spoil the capital's skyline with wind turbines.

The New Year's reception marks the end of the "happy family" era that the mayor has enjoyed for so long. His wife and their daughter, Diana, however, are not aware of his suspicions and carry on as usual. Robert starts spending a lot of time and energy "behaving normally." Naturally, his normal behavior is far more suspicious. Normally Robert's not really present when he's at home--he's preoccupied with his phone, the newspapers, and his own thoughts. But now Robert is so sure he'll miss the clues if he doesn't pay attention that he starts to be almost alarmingly attentive and interested--ultimately losing himself in increasingly panicked and paranoid trains of thought.

Written with Herman Koch's trademark originality, playfulness, and edge, The Ditch is a wildly clever--and guttingly familiar--story of a man whose sadistic skill for undermining himself and his marriage comes to cost him nearly everything.

Advance Galley Reviews

Robert Walter, the 60 year old mayor of Amsterdam, suspects that his wife Sylvia is having an affair, based solely on the fact that he saw her laughing at a party with another politician. He spends most of the rest of the book obsessing about this supposed affair, but he never asks Sylvia about it. His self absorbed musings are occasionally interrupted by some disturbing events in the lives of his parents, who are in their 90s, and an old friend. Every time the book gets to a critical moment, with his parents, Sylvia, the friend, a reporter who dredges up his past, or even a lost cat, the chapter ends abruptly and the story picks up someplace else. Like Robert, the author is being evasive and skittering away from uncomfortable reality. His parents, wife and friend are going through some pretty heavy stuff, while Robert goes on sleep-inducing tangents about windmills. I definitely preferred “The Dinner”. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I liked this book. It was the first book of Herman Koch's that I have read. it was fairly light, but interesting reading. I won't go into the actual plot of the book, as it is covered by the Penguin review and other reviewers, and for me, the plot wasn't what made this book interesting. I enjoyed the commentaries made by Robert Walter, about the Dutch, and Dutch society, particularly about the new type of windmills as "environmentally correct" energy, the fact that their ugliness ruins beautiful landscapes, which are something of real value, they kill birds, and that certain people make a lot of money putting them up, taking them down, and that basically they are already obsolete and not the most efficient way to create and save energy. I live in the Mojave Desert, which he mentions is better suited for these windmills. However, we also have the same issues. We love our beautiful expansive views which windmills destroy and have the same concerns that plague Holland, along with the electrical pollution which he didn't mention, that compromises the health of people who live near windmills. I have one factual criticism, which I hope will be corrected before the book goes to press. Redwood National Park does not have sequoias. Sequoias are not found in northern California. They are found in central California and southern California. While sequoias are related to redwoods, they are not the same kind of tree. Redwoods are dark brown are very tall. Sequoias are massive and very red in color. I used to live in the redwoods in northern California, and only recently visited the Sequoias. The trees are quite different. I liked the commentaries Koch made about suicide, and how Dutch society views it. I liked how he had the attitude play out with Robert Walter's parents. It was interesting how Robert was nearly beside himself with the pressures in his life, and how the attitudes of Dutch society, the politically correct ones, contributed to his stress and "monkey mind," the mind that doesn't stop cogitating and obsessing. I found the tongue-in-cheek humor around all this hilarious and entertaining. The ending of the book was confusing to me, and I never did figure out why Robert wanted to be so secretive about his wife's background. It sounded like she was Greek, although Greeks aren't big pork eaters, but with the smashing plates and the honor killings? Could be. I don't think I have read a book before by a Dutch writer. I would definitely read his other books.

I was looking forward to this book since I’ve read him in the past. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end! I was very disappointed by this story. It was slow and did not keep my interest. The characters were flat and not really likable. I read about half the book and gave up. ??

I tried, but just could not get into this one... I really liked The Dinner, and the synopses of several other of his tales have compelled me to add them to my TBR list, although I haven't had time to dig into any of them yet. When I saw a new title on here, I jumped at the chance to force him to the top of my reading list, and was eager to dig in. Unfortunately, I just never found my way into this one... It felt very meandering from the opening lines and instead of being entranced by that winding twisty journey, I found myself distracted and, frankly, bored. I wasn't able to finish as a result. This one was just not for me. If you like your narrative to be a little more freeform, but still with the trademark wit and cleverness he has exhibited in his previous books, this one might be a better fit for you than it was for me.

It's all too easy to get caught up in your own thoughts, particularly as they devolve. Herman Koch's The Ditch follows one man's inward spiral down his suspicious thoughts. Robert is the mayor of Amsterdam, good at his job of listening to his constituents and popular among the citizens despite his personal dislike for interacting with too many people for too long. At a New Year's party, Robert sees his wife, Sylvia, laughing extensively with one of the alderman, leading his overactive mind toward a conclusion of the worst sort. Believing that Sylvia is having an affair with the alderman, Robert starts spending his time observing his wife for any abnormal behaviors while trying overly hard to maintain his own level of normalcy, an outright contradiction with his hyper-focused attention trained on things he typically overlooks. On top of this self-imposed stress in his otherwise good life, Robert's parents have a plan to bring about the end of their lives on their own terms before their lives and health decline, providing yet another opportunity for Robert's train of thought to venture into worst-case scenarios and undermine his general happiness. Written in a fashion typical of the prose classically seen in Koch's other works, the text is cleverly crafted with honest and to-the-point language that provides some humor to the less-than-pleasant-to-discuss-or-think-about topics explored. This story is a generally entertaining read filled with easy to relate with moments of overthinking, yet doesn't quite break into the territory of extraordinary. Though mimicking how easily a train of thought can jump from topic to topic and between reminiscences of the past and focusing on the present, the way the narrative meandered in the same way resulted in a story that lacked a compelling cohesiveness. Overall, I'd give it a 3 out of 5 stars.


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