Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch
originally published 2009, published in US 2/12/13
304 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

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.

My thoughts -

Holy cow.

I almost don't know how to review this novel, because part of its power is in its insidious surprises. I definitely think this is a novel that is better to go into not knowing TOO much, because as each knot is untied, each secret revealed, the twists and turns are so much more shocking when you don't see them coming.

I've seen several comparisons between this novel and Gone Girl, and even though I didn't care for that one, I can understand the connection between the two. I think the reason The Dinner DID work for me was because it was so much more subtle - nothing is obvious, and a large part of the tension in the novel is left up to the reader. Koch's characters do not give up their secrets easily, but I found that necessary work to be part of what compelled me to keep reading.

This was not an easy read - the subject matter is dark, and the issues complex and difficult. I was particularly interested in the questions raised about what lengths a parent should go to in order to protect their child. I would imagine a book club having much to discuss after reading The Dinner.

"Without knowing glances - without winks - there was in fact no secret - that was my reasoning. It might be hard for us to put the events in the cubicle out of our minds, but in the course of time, they would start to exist outside us - just as they did for other people. But what we did have to forget was the secret. And the best thing was to start forgetting as soon as possible." (p. 150)

I don't know that this will be one of my FAVORITE reads of 2013, but I do know it will be one of the most memorable. It's treatment of parental responsibility, violence, and mental illness left me thinking long after I'd turned the last page. Recommended for readers willing to take a disturbing journey into a dark place.

Finished - 7/31/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R - please don't give this to your child
My rating - 8/10


Beth F said...

I passed on this because of the often-cited comparison to Gone Girl, which I didn't love. Now you're making me change my mind. I might try it.

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for not spoiling anything! This sounds like a real page turner.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Holy Cow is right. I felt guilty for enjoying this one LOL

Anonymous said...

I'm sold! Thank you for the great review. How have I not heard of this book until now?
-Dilettantish Reader

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I have got to get a copy of this one!