The Dinner, as the title would suggest, takes place over the course of a meal between two brothers and their wives at a chic Dutch restaurant. The narrator Paul is as unreliable as narrators come — a fact that comes out slowly over the course of the book. Paul has a wife, a teenage son…and some disturbing rage issues. Serge, his brother, is set to become the next Prime Minister, though he’s shown to be (from his brother’s pov) t a boorish oaf. Serge and his wife also have two teenage sons (one adopted). It is these sons, who have gotten themselves into some serious trouble, that the two couples are dining together to discuss.
First, the novel’s strengths. The pacing is tight and the novel is suspenseful, at least through the first 2/3′s of the story as we get deeper into Paul’s mind regarding the current events as well as his past breakdowns that shed light on the present. It’s a quick read and I did feel compelled to keep going, to find out just what happens to this family.
But the weaknesses. I love a good unreliable narrator and Paul is just that. This novel is being compared to the recent Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and the comparison is valid. But like that book, there is not one character in The Dinner that is likable. In fact, as more is revealed, I found all of the characters despicable. As the horrific nature of just what those teenage boys have been doing (think Clockwork Orange) is revealed, my ability to empathize with any of the characters became obsolete. You have to suspend some serious disbelief to buy in to the actions and reactions of their parents as they discover what atrocities their sons are committing.
Every person in the novel comes off as a sociopath and it is clear that the apples don’t fall far from the trees.