The Dinner by Herman Koch, Sam Garrett (Translator)

This week's book review was written by the library's Book Review Blog's co-host, Nicole Menard. Missed last week's book review? Check it out here: March Book 1. Happy Reading!

The Dinner
By Herman Koch, Sam Garrett (Translator)

Fiction | Mystery | Contemporary | Psychological Suspense
Audience: General Adult

Book Blurb from Goodreads:

An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives -- all over the course of one meal.

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Nicole’s Review:

Though the plates at The Dinner are fashionably empty, “in the better restaurants, quality takes precedence over quantity”, there is no shortage of maniacal appetites. The Lohmans gather to dine at an upscale establishment to discuss “an accident; a series of unfortunate events”. Following every course, with brief flashback interludes, Herman Koch serves up a scrumptiously uncomfortable foray.

Paul Lohman is our narrative maître d’ guiding us through the evening. His distaste of the bourgeois and repeated declarations of domestic happiness initiates a reader’s alliance. Paul and his wife Claire banter throughout dinner in quips and prose. They share sidelong glances, smiles, and conceal ill-timed frustrations. They set the stage for the arrival and subsequent dislike of Serge and Babette Lohman. Their presence at the chic restaurant causes other patrons quite a commotion. Serge Lohman is a prominent political man whose every mannerism gets under Paul’s skin. Babette appears to be a physical specimen, beautiful but bereft of any true intelligence. The families have met to discuss a mutual secret.

Paul and Claire’s son, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s son, Rick, have committed a crime. The country is enraged. The crime was captured on surveillance cameras and cell phone footage. Televisions are running the tapes asking for any assistance in the capture of the criminals. Videos reveal the impudent young boys violently discarding another life. The assault feels contemporary and plausible; it makes you ill. Despite the media frenzy there are no images of their faces but someone knows. Dinner discussion is deciding the fate of the boys.

Course after course, Koch drags the reader through the pompous presentation of the extortionate cuisine while simultaneously dismantling the façade of good versus evil. Slowly each character is brought into the mind of the reader- for questioning. The Dinner forces the reader to stomach the dark humor of satire, digest the prominence of mental illness, bloat on the disdain displayed, and expel any remnant of decency presumed to be included in these pages. Twisted misanthropic fun!

If you want another story with dark secrets just under the surface, try William Landay's Defending Jacob. For another dark, disturbing, psychological thriller, try Gillian Flynn's Sharp Object or Gone Girl.

Publieksprijs voor het Nederlandse Boek (2009)