Review: The Dinner
Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Genre: Psychological thriller, suspense, unreliable narrator
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary: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.
I read this book in nearly one sitting; it's not a very long book, and I had a very long car ride to read it. This book is incredibly unsettling, because at first you imagine that the four main characters are simply pretentious rich people who have nothing better to do than pretend to like each other at obscenely expensive 5 course dinners. As the story progresses, however, you realize that these pretentious rich people are in fact capable of horrific things, and their utter callousness about what they have done and how they "handle" the consequences is pretty disturbing.
These aren't the kinds of people who regret or repent a mistake, these are the people who will go to any lengths to save themselves and their families. It's pretty interesting to see how parental instinct to protect one's child is shown in such a twisted way, because generally we tend to root for the parents' morally questionable actions when they are done in the interest of protecting a child. It's selfless, we tell ourselves, the ends justify the means . Well, not here.
I can't say I enjoyed this book, but then again, this isn't the kind of book that's meant to be enjoyed. It's a book that is meant to horrify you and make your skin crawl. It wasn't all unpleasant, though. There were quite a few moments that were kind of humorous, in a wry sort of way. The scene with the photograph was a particularly interesting one. Herman Koch manages to weave in his satire and social commentary into a rather sinister dinner, and while it sounds like this would be a terrible combination, somehow it works.
This book is kind of slow, especially because of the narrator's propensity to withhold the truth from the reader. The book is nearly half over before you have an inkling of what is going on, and there are a lot of roundabout internal monologues or explanations of past events that are so long that you forget where the story left off in the present. Still, I think the style was very well suited to the character telling us this story. He weaves lies and forces himself to forget things, how could he possibly be expected to tell us the facts right off the bat?
This book was quite an experience, and while I'm glad I read it, I definitely will not be reading it again!