While this was a well-written novel, I don’t think I would ever actually recommend it to anyone. The characters were absolutely despicable and didn’t have any redeeming qualities. While I know that is a complaint leveled against Gone Girl as well, I actually enjoyed Gone Girl and figuring out its twists – in other words, it had something other than the characters going for it. This book on the other hand didn’t have anything in it other than the characters whose actions just made me feel slightly grimy for reading about them. For me, it’s a novel that I would love to discuss but I don’t actually want to put anyone through reading it to make that discussion possible.
I’d heard some buzz about this book on a couple of book-related blogs, and then my dad came home from a business trip gushing over it and told me he’d read the whole thing on a plane ride. I immediately got it at the library and finished it within a few hours–it’s that good.
The narrator of The Dinner is Paul, a seemingly typical middle-class man out to dinner with his wealthy brother (a rising star in the Netherlands’ political scene), and their respective wives. Their sons are connected by a dark and violent secret, one that brings the two couples together for dinner: the goal of the evening is to discuss what happened and to decide what to do. Paul peels back the layers of deception and denial surrounding the situation over the course of the evening, . Cleverly, the action is broken up according to course/phase of the meal, starting with the aperitif, ending with the tip. Of course, flashbacks and inner monologue are used extensively to flesh out the real-time action.
Disjointed. Unlikeable characters. Badly written.
So, Shaman, tell us what you really think about The Dinner by Herman Koch!
Two brothers and their wives meet up at a fancy restaurant to discuss a very important matter that has to do with their children. The narrator, one of the brothers, recounts the events that led up to this evening. These events are presented in a detached way, without emotion. Explanations are given, yet nobody is held accountable, let alone takes responsibility willingly. Still, every single person around that table should be stepping up to the plate.
The book is divided into sections named after the course the two couples are currently eating. This I found an annoying gimmick, especially because the dishes – otherwise completely irrelevant to the story – are presented in detail (something that has made me skip whole paragraphs when reading Game of Thrones). Maybe this was done on purpose, to irritate the reader and bring him or her closer to the state of mind of Paul, our narrator. By all appearances in a constant state of irritation and with a dangerously short fuse, he makes for a character that’s hard to empathise with. His beliefs are at such odds with mine that I almost shuddered with distaste every time he talked about them. I suppose that, if there is one thing Koch succeeds in is to prove that, if you’re not careful, you become the monster you detest.
Writing-wise I found the language too simplistic, although that might have depended on the translation. It was difficult at times to understand when the events described were taking place, as the story jumped from ”now” to ”two hours ago” to ”some months ago” to ”many years ago” in a disjointed, confusing manner. Some of the narrator’s recollections seem to do little to add to the story except further irritate the reader.
The Dinner was a quick read and it did make me think, so it wasn’t a complete waste of my time. But I enjoyed watching Carnage, a film with a similar premise, much more than this.
I had greatly anticipated getting this book from the library after seeing so many reviews for it this year. I had deliberately avoided reading anything about it as I had thought this would be another Gone Girl – one of those fantastic books where the less you know going in the better. Now that I have read it, I desperately want to read those reviews, but won’t allow myself to until I try to put down some of my thoughts here. I did not enjoy this book; it made me feel anxious and revolted and I won’t be recommending it to anyone. Does that mean it’s not a good book? No, quite the opposite, really. The fact that a novel can produce such a strong visceral reaction must surely mean that it’s well written, but it upset me. Does that make it a great book? Maybe it does. I’m just torn with attempting to explain my reaction without spoiling the plot for someone else.
What everyone knows going in is that this story is about a family dinner. Paul Lohman and his wife Claire meet up with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette at a fancy restaurant to discuss something that has happened to their children. Told retrospectively from Paul’s point of view, the reveal is very slow and ends up somewhere quite unexpected.
I think this was a well-written novel, though occasionally frustrating with being slightly too heavy-handed with foreshadowing what is to come. If you are planning on reading it, don’t read any other reviews, as the more you allow the story to lead you, the more you will appreciate the journey. I do think it would be a good pick for a book club or any other situation where you can discuss it afterwards. I’m feeling a bit at a loss personally, because I would like to talk to someone else about their reaction to it… maybe I will have to get some friends to read it after all.
Read The Dinner. I cannot think of a way to discuss this book without giving anything away. I have already begun pleading with my reader friends to get a copy so we can discuss because I so desperately want to talk to someone about it. I read the whole thing in one sitting and it was gripping.
Basically, the book takes place over the course of one dinner, with some flashbacks included. Two couples meet, needing to discuss something about your children. The way the book unfolds, you learn key pieces of information slowly. It’s told from the perspective of one narrator, so you only learn the key information as it becomes necessary to his thought process.
It’s a true psychological thriller (a la Gone Girl). There are no random surprises, or surprise events thrown in just for the purpose of excitement. Every twist and turn that you experience over the course of the dinner is surprising, yet makes sense with the characters, and feels completely earned.
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.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch, is nominally about a pair of couples meeting for a fancy dinner. The men of the couples are brothers whose lives have taken different paths. One is a politician. The other is a teacher. The two are not estranged, exactly, but there is a very specific reason they are meeting for dinner on this particular night. A horrific event involving both their sons has come to light, and they must figure out how to address it. One favors shining a bright light on the incident. The other is not so sure. One of the wives, unbeknownst to either man, has already taken action. The discoveries keep coming, from the details of the inciting incident to the dark conclusion.
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.