The Dinner

True to its title, Herman Koch‘s The Dinner is about a dinner date between 4 people – 2 middle-aged Dutch married couple.  The two men in the husband-wife pair are brothers – Paul and Serge Lohman.  Paul, a former History teacher, married to Claire; and Serge, front-runner in the upcoming elections for Prime Minister, and his wife, Babette.

The dinner takes place in an upscale restaurant where one would normally need to make reservations 3 months in advance.  Everyone, that is,  except Serge Lohman, the charismatic, “people’s candidate, who was able to get a reservation made on the same day.

Unfortunately, the 2 couples aren’t there to enjoy the restaurant’s gourmet creations with exorbitant prices.  They are there to discuss their children.   Their teenage children and the shocking secret that could very well destroy their lives.

The Dinner is divided into 5 parts – Apertif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert, and Digestif, each part corresponding to Paul’s narration and description of the dreaded meeting, and the even more dreaded topic to be discussed.

Paul begins his story innocently enough, by each describing those involved in the dinner – his wife Claire, his brother Serge, and his sister-in-law, Babette. From Paul’s opinions, remarks and subtle hints, it is implied what kind relationship he has with each one of his companions.  Next, he casually talks about his son, 15-year-old, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s natural and adopted sons, Rick and Beau.  As the dinner wears on, Paul presents a disturbing story involving his son and nephews, revealing the reason behind the inevitable dinner.  All throughout the dinner and his narration, Paul doesn’t fail to describe and make funny and snarky comments about the food each one is having, and the people in the restaurant – the diners, the management and staff, and the owner.

In the course of the narration and dinner, readers learn more and more about each of the characters, especially Paul – as a former History teacher, as a husband, as a brother, and as a father.  As the dinner continues, Paul’s story evolves from a “who did what?” to a “who knows what, to what extent, and when?”

The topic of the dinner – the  activity Paul’s son and nephews were involved is disturbing and shocking, but almost as disturbing, or even more, perhaps, are Paul’s and his wife’s reactions and opinions of their son and the event.

The Dinner is a troubling, thought-provoking, story about parental love and to what extent they will go to to defend and protect their children.   Paul as a narrator is funny, cynical, and intelligent, if not biased, introducing only bits and pieces of the story at first,  holding back enough to entice readers but to ensure that they will read on.  From the first chapter to the last, Paul will capture the readers’ imagination in this disturbing, suspenseful novel which you know won’t end well but you just can’t stop reading.

I’m not really one to compare novels and authors, but reading Herman Koch’s The Dinner reminded me a bit of Ian McEwan’s and Julian Barnes’ novels.

***

The Dinner (2009) – Herman Koch (Translated from Dutch)

Hogarth, 298 pages.

Personal rating:  4/5

I’m not really one to compare novels and authors, but reading Herman Koch’s The Dinner reminded me a bit of Ian McEwan’s and Julian Barnes’ novels.

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16 thoughts on “The Dinner

  1. McEwan and Barnes? Wow. When I first read a review of this (this is only the second), I was already attracted to it. I haven’t found a local copy yet.

    So, who paid for the dinner?

  2. I read this last year and really enjoyed it – I liked the structure a lot, Although all the characters were, by and large, pretty horrible! I agree, it’s very like McEwan. I haven’t read any Julian Barnes yet, but I will be reading The Sense of An Ending over the summer and I’m really looking forward to it.

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