The Dinner by Herman Koch

A quick rundown… Paul has called a dinner with his politician brother to discuss an unspeakable thing their sons did. How will it end?

Strengths: Interesting and unusual premise.

Weaknesses: Sometimes it’s very slow, other times the pace is very fast.

Why I read it: Book club book

Pages: 309

Published: 2012 (Original in Dutch 2008)

Publisher: Text Publishing

Setting: Netherlands

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Dinner is a somewhat unusual book that has been making big waves since it was published in English last year. It was claimed to be shocking, unbelievable and controversial- probably a reason why it was picked as a book club discussion book. Like most of the other books the book club had read, very few liked the book!

Me, I didn’t mind it but didn’t love it either. Having gone through a number of books in quick succession that involved unreliable narrators, I was feeling a bit jaded when I found out about Paul. Paul, the first person narrator of The Dinner seems like a regular joe at the start –father, husband and slightly jealous of his more successful brother. As the book goes on, Paul reveals more about himself that made me feel uncomfortable. This is not a man I’d want to be alone with – his past is a bit murky and his responses at times were just plain weird.

What I did like about the book was that the majority of it took place over a single dinner between Paul, his brother and their wives. Chapters are divided into various sections of the meal. There’s the somewhat fake light conversation made over dinner as both parties skate around the true reason they’re having dinner – to discuss something terrible their sons have done. Through various flashbacks, the reader gradually pieces together just what has happened. For a bit of light relief, there’s the over the top reveal and explanation of the dishes – something that I didn’t find funny but I think was necessary to prevent the whole novel from being too dark.

The big reveal wasn’t that shocking for me. Yes, it’s terrible and something that should never have been done, but unfortunately it’s something that does go on in society. I think the reactions of each of the parents to their sons’ actions were the most interesting part of the book. A whole spectrum of emotions is revealed, some that are easily identified with, others that seemed bizarre. There’s not a lot of feeling in the narrative, but the characters’ speech revealed just how they were feeling without having Paul’s spin on things.

This was a great book for book club because of the discussion it provokes – how far do you go to protect your family? Where do ethics apply for someone you love? Do you protect your family at all costs?

The ending won’t please everyone – there can’t be a happily ever after when this kind of event happens – but it’s fitting with what we’ve come to know of the characters.


7 thoughts on “The Dinner by Herman Koch

Add yours

  1. I was thinking of going with audio on this one but the slow spots might not make that a good choice. Even though it has mixed reviews I still want to read it.

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