THE DINNER, BY HERMAN KOCH
PUBLICATION: HOGARTH; REPRINT EDITION OCTOBER 29, 2013
About the book:
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 scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. 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 shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
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.
As a reviewer, I am quickly learning to allow some time for reflection prior to reviewing a Herman Koch novel. On one hand, I feel that he’s a literary genius that future generations will study in college Lit classes, but on the other hand, I struggle with the idea that I’ve lost three hours of my life that I can never recover. For those that have read Herman Koch, I hope you understand my message. For those that have not… Let me say that his novels are strong and powerful but contain so much internal dialogue from the main character that it can be exhausting to finish.
The Dinner poses several important questions. Two parents meet for a fancy expensive, over-the-top dinner to discuss their children and what they have done. Interlaced with the meal itself is Koch’s views on social hypocrisy, societal norms, and the undying love and protection that a parent provides their children. Trying not to give spoilers, imagine you were watching the news one evening and a horrific crime had been caught on surveillance video. As you sit there, drinking your glass of wine and working your crossword puzzle, something clicks. Maybe just a quick glimpse or even a blur, but you inherently know that it is your child in the video committing this unspeakable act. As a parent, what do you do? Do you protect your child from the punishment that will surely follow? Do you ignore it and hope the act was an accident and perhaps a phase?
Paul and Serge are brothers, but Serge is an extremely famous politician. Serge and Babette have a son Rick and an “adopted son” Faso. Paul and Claire have a son Michel. These boys have been bad, and this dinner is meant to be an opportunity to discuss their behavior. But throughout the course of this extravagant meal, the reader is allowed to see each character’s flaws, weaknesses, and fears. What if each set of parents have different ideas of how to solve this situation? More importantly, are mothers more driven to protect their sons than the fathers are?
This novel focuses on several things. The internal dynamics and distastes between brothers. Secondly, the powerful connection between a husband and a wife. Thirdly, the things we notice and reflect upon when we realize a relationship may be ending. And lastly, the overwhelming, organic need and desire to protect our children. I must admit I was mortified when I realized what the crime was. I would hope that I would never protect my son if he participated in such an act of evil. But as the story continues, Paul and Claire’s attitude and train of thought started getting to me, actually questioning what I would do in that situation.
The Dinner is by no means a light read and quite honestly, it leaves you with several questions still lingering in your mind. However, I am certainly glad that I read it. It’s one of those that really makes you think.
*Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.