ElCicco #CBR5 Review #9: The Dinner by Herman Koch


This novel, originally published in Dutch, has been translated into many languages and has been a bestseller in Europe. The English version has just come out and initial reviews compare it to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which made it irresistible for me but makes it hard to review without giving away key plot points to both novels. Suffice it to say that our narrator might not be completely reliable and the narrative takes some unexpected turns.

The narrator is Paul, a former history teacher married to Clair and father of 15-year-old Michel. The narrative follows Paul and Clair’s dinner at a trendy restaurant along with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette. Serge is on the verge of becoming prime minister and is very well known and well liked. Paul feel considerable bitterness toward his brother and most other people he encounters, particularly at the trendy restaurant. Initially, some of Paul’s observations are amusing, a bit snarky. But after a while, the reader becomes alert to the possibility that there might be more going on than the narrator is telling or possibly aware of himself.

With every course of the dinner, the reader discovers more about the reason for the dinner and about the diners themselves. Michel and his cousin Rick (Serge and Babette’s son) have gotten into trouble, and the four parents are trying to figure out what to do about it. In slowly revealing the nature of the trouble, Paul also flashes back through his own history, and the reader begins to wonder how trustworthy this narrator is and what he might do. It is especially unsettling that Paul narrates directly to the reader in a familiar and conspiratorial way.

In my opinion, while the ultimate revelation in this novel has less impact on the reader than Gone Girl’s did, it’s still unsettling and suspenseful. I enjoyed it less than Gone Girl, but my expectations were rather high. I enjoyed it nonetheless.