Friday, September 20, 2013

The Dinner - Herman Koch

Are you as happy as I am that it is Friday?  Probably not.  I'm pretty happy.  I live for weekends these days.  Weekends mean hanging out with Kevin, reading, writing blogs for the next week, and general relaxation.  Far better than being at the office.

Weekends sometimes mean dinners out.  Kevin and I love good food.  We realized this year that we are actually a bit snobby sometimes about our food, though only at restaurants.  We love a good fancy dinner. We really need no occasion to go; it's a bad habit for our bank account.  With all our expensive taste, though, we have yet to visit a restaurant like the one in Herman Koch's The Dinner. This unnamed restaurant, which serves as the setting for the book, would far exceed our budget, even for a special occasion.  

Koch, a Dutch author, breaks the book into sections, each named after a dinner course.  The entirety of the novel takes place in one evening at the restaurant. Though Koch employs a series of memories to fill in more details, the main event is one dinner. Two brothers and their wives dine together. Paul, the main character, resents his sibling, Serge, who is expected to be the next prime minster.  

At first, the book seems to just be about an unpleasant evening born out of the necessity of familial relations.  As more is revealed, however, it becomes obvious that this is no ordinary dinner.  These couples are together to discuss the actions of their sons and how to handle them.

I do not want to reveal the twists here, although I know I do with some books. The Dinner, however, relies on these twists to keep a reader engaged.  I do not want to deprive you of the experience. Without the mystery, the book would be missing an important leg.

I will say that the story is pretty dark.  As the story progresses and you learn more about Paul's background, you realize that he is not the kind, overlooked sibling you thought at the beginning. He has a dark past of his own and worries it is his influence leading his son. 

I loved all the food references and descriptions. I will never complain about other genres containing a dash of foodie books. Paul consistently complains throughout the book about the pricing and pretentious feel of the restaurant. I felt that Koch's decision to set the story in an expensive eatery was one of his most brilliant moves. The juxtaposition of the extravagance with the gravity of the reason for the dinner plays perfectly. It makes the whole scenario and the parents' handling of it all the more incongruous.   

With all its attempts at intrigue, The Dinner never reached that coveted "I-can't-put-this-down" status for me.  The Wall Street Journal may have called it "a European Gone Girl," but I found Gillian Flynn's bestseller far more captivating. I think The Guardian said it best when they said The Dinner "is entertaining but lacks weight and finesse."

If you like your books with plenty of twists and moral ambiguity, I definitely recommend this book to you.  If you dislike violence and need bad people to get punished in the end, I would avoid this particular work.  Of course, you could always just wait for the movie.  It has recently been announced that Cate Blanchett will make her directorial debut with the adaptation of Koch's novel. That could be reason enough to spark your interest.

Pages: 304
Date Completed: September 7, 2013

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