Herman Koch [translated from the original Dutch by Sam Garrett]
The Dinner [originally published as Het Diner]
Text (AU: 25th July 2012); Atlantic (UK: 2nd May 2013); Random House Hogarth (US & CA: 29th October 2013)
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It’s difficult to review a book like this without talking spoilers, which form the most fascinating aspects of the story. So please excuse my deliberate vagueness.
Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner to discuss their sons. Paul Lohman’s narrative is quite clever, noting the pretentious ways people talk about food, film, politics, family, teaching, and history. The dinner itself is rather ridiculous: several courses of unimpressive food in tiny portions. And the host with his pinkie-pointing!
The characters’ viewpoints are understandable, but that doesn’t make the people likeable. They seem to like a bit of drama, and Paul in particular likes to see how far he can push posh politician brother Serge into losing his marbles. Terribly awkward if experiencing this in person, but I love the trashiness. And I do rather love this novel, though I may be in the minority, judging by star-ratings I’ve seen.
It starts off easy enough, with plenty of Paul’s smart observations on life…until Chapter 19. Then the story takes a sharp turn into psychological thriller territory, asking the tough questions about heredity, parenthood, and justice. Not everything is spelled out in detail, so readers may work to figure stuff out (such as a certain character’s illness), but when you solve the puzzle it makes sense.
Are you sure you want to be parent? After reading Herman Koch’s The Dinner, reconsider. This wryly-told novel is clever and quirky, and overall a great read. Love the witty observations, love the drama, love that the author makes you think to understand the full picture. Huzzah!