The Dinner by Herman Koch Review

201303-omag-books-dinner-284xfall The Dinner by Herman Koch – Goodread’s Summary

“A European Gone Girl.” –The Wall Street Journal

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.
    (via Goodreads.com)

The Dinner by Herman Koch – My Review

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Waiting for Lohman: As I began to read this novel, I feared that I was being setup for a let-down.  As has been noted by several other reviews, the book takes a casual, almost mundane pace as it introduces two brothers and their wives.  As told by the narrator, Paul Lohman, the description of the night, the restaurant and family matters leaves the reader feeling as bored and irritated as the narrator himself.  By the time the manager/hopeful friend to the would-be prime minister finishes explaining the process, the origin, and feeding techniques of each course, I too wanted to flee the restaurant and have a stiff drink.  And then something struck me; a memory from my days as an undergrad and reading “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett: Beckett created this masterfully absurd play in which two men must pass the time waiting for, well, Godot.  It’s boring and you wonder when the hell is anything going to happen.  “You promised, Dr. Brooks, that I would love this play.  When is the loving going to start and the desire to throw the book through the window going to end???”  After reading the play, my professor explained that part of the magic of “Waiting for Godot” was that the audience was pulled into the plot along with Estragon and Vladimir, and the gooey passage of time, waiting for something amazing to happen.  I’m not sure if Koch was that crafty and sophisticated a writer, but through his “American Psycho” -esque blah blah, he was able to bring his audience in as a fifth member of the anxious dinner party.

Unreliable Narrator:  At the same pace as the evening’s events, the narrator begins filling in pieces of the family’s background through flashbacks.  As the stories progress, the reader begins to gain a sense of uneasiness.  For all of the mental bashings that the narrator inflicts on his brother and his pretentious family, one begins to consider the possibility that perhaps our narrator is not all that HE seems to be.  Can one trust the mental balance of a man who heaves freshly baked pasta dishes at his brother or is dismissed from a teaching position for sharing inappropriate opinions on the victims of World War II with his students?  More than just a difference in how to view the world and the people in it, Paul reveals that there is a psychological element that leaves him unbalanced.  This novel was a fantastic example of what happens when there is an unreliable narrator; the way in which Paul described his brother, his wife that he dotes upon, completely tainted the way in which I viewed them.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel, more for the literary aspect than the actual story.  I am not a parent, so I am not quite sure I can relate to any of the circumstances that Paul and his family find themselves in.  I found myself to be an outsider, and therefore had very little sympathy, so “Off with their heads” I say.  What I enjoyed was how the novel was segmented by dinner courses, and the flashbacks were quite effective.  The pacing, once I saw a grander scheme, was what made this a light read-gone-horribly enthralling.

3 thoughts on “The Dinner by Herman Koch Review

  1. Just finished it. All I can say is Wow. I’m not a teacher or English expert so I can’t comment on the literary aspect at all. That book was all over the place and I didn’t see the ending at the beginning. Even at the end, I am not sure what all happened. I’ll give it a thumbs up – not as good as Gone Girl but I see the comparison through the unexpectedness and non-chronological telling of the story.

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