Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Book cover of The Dinner by Herman Koch
As previously promised, this is the second installment of 'That Month Where Hanna Could Only Read Her Birthday Books.' Not that I'm complaining though, as I've had a 100% success rating so far. Bex bought me The Dinner after hearing about the 72 times I dithered over it whilst book shopping, and it turns out that I should have just bought the damn thing in the first place. It's amazing.

Plot summary: A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened...

As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

The entire novel takes place over one meal at a fancy restaurant. Paul and his wife are soon joined by Paul's brother, a high-ranking politician, and his wife, Babette. It starts out trivially enough but eventually it's revealed that there's a purpose for that a meal; an issue relating to their children that needs to be discussed. Slowly, with the aid of flashbacks, more is revealed about what the teenagers have done and which adult knows which part.  

It's done very, very well. It's fast-paced; incredibly so when you consider that hardly anything actually happens - it's all in the past. I absolutely couldn't put it down as I needed to know how the meal was going to end as we slowly progressed through the many courses with the two couples.

It's not for the squeamish. Don't read it if you can't deal with violence. It's not just that there is a lot of explicitly-described gore but even the language and tone are somehow aggressive. It's very cleverly done and I'm sure the translator deserves some credit there as well.

The Dinner also raises some interesting moral issues - how far would you go to protect your children? At what point do your actions stop being for their benefit? How much does a children's upbringing affect their mental state? Unfortunately for Paul, these questions are incredibly clear-cut.

I'm struggling to think of a negative for The Dinner. The main character is incredibly irritating, but it's more of a plot point than a failure of the writing. The other characters are also quite flat and two-dimensional, but again - plot point. It's a very short book so there's not much more I can say without beginning to give away spoilers, but I really do recommend reading it. Just perhaps not in the queue for a Sarah J. Maas book signing, like I did.

What did you think of The Dinner? 

1 comment:

  1. I really want to read this when I'm allowing myself to buy books again - I realised when I was trying to track down World War Z and found piles and piles of books in the box in the utility room that I'd pretty much forgotten that I owned and that was pretty bad. Almost as bad as the Pile of Shame!

    Anyway, when my guilt dies down, this is high up on the list of things to get!

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