February 18, 2014

The Dinner by Herman Koch

 

Herman Koch examines each detail of his diners as closely as the waiter articulates the origin of each course. Nothing is too minute to point out, but it isn't boring. It's a slow reveal with building tension much like a Hitchcock film; you're actually poised in your chair for the conclusion, practically unable to wait for it any longer. As Alfred Hitchcock says, "There's no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

Four parents meet at an exclusive Dutch restaurant to hold an important discussion about their sons, and as we go through each course, from aperitif to dessert, we become increasingly aware that something terrible has occurred. Through veiled looks and subtle movements, to the point of shouting and crying, we are led through the dinner. Through the actions of their sons. Through the shocking conclusion.

Perhaps what is most shocking is the attitude of the parents, the way that one pair wants to reveal all that has happened, while the other pair not only wants to hide it but ignore it. I found myself wondering how it is that some people are able to focus more on image than on truth. Or, on getting by than being accountable for their actions. And throughout the novel are little lines which made me stop short.

One father tells us in his narration, "We never tried to influence him (his son); we would have let him have any dessert he liked, so you couldn't blame it on his upbringing. It was hereditary. Yes, that was the only word for it. If heredity existed, if anything was hereditary, than it had to be our aversion to sweet desserts." (p. 221)

Sweet desserts?! Sweet mother of God, desserts have nothing to do with the situation about which we are reading. I was mesmerized in my chair all day yesterday, unable to pull myself away from this novel which forced me to examine parenting. Responsibility. Heredity. The consequences of our free will.

The Dinner is an exceptionally exciting novel, with none of the conveniently contrived conclusions that I have found in so many "thrillers". It would be perfect for a book club discussion, although it is perfectly suited to reading all in one day, by oneself, such as I did.


48 comments:

  1. Great! I'm in the hold line for it with the public library. Thanks for the enticing review. ;)

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    1. I love it when I can get a book which someone has written about, that I want to read, at the library! What a serendipity. Hope to talk about it with you soon, as I so value your opinion Arti.

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  2. Interesting. I've only read a couple of other reviews of this, but they weren't complimentary. Thanks for this perspective. This actually sounds like something I'd like to read.

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    1. I haven't read any reviews on this yet, although I've seen it around the blog-o-sphere. Probably mostly in ads when it first came out. Still, I can see why the topics presented would not be recevied well.

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  3. My sister was reading this book, but I wasn't sure it was one I would enjoy. Your review makes it sound fascinating!

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    1. Indeed it is, fascinating. Probably especially if one is a parent.

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  4. When this book came out, the publisher's description didn't interest me. Now I read your review, and I want to read it.

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    1. So glad to entice you. I haven't known that my review could cause more interest than a publisher's description; that doesn't usually happen!

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  5. Fascinating, unique premise! Your review of this book is also mesmerizing.

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    1. A very unique premise, and one of the best parts for me was that it didn't seem contrived. Hated that about Gone Girl!

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  6. Whoa. Sounds chilling for sure. Like it would make a great movie too.
    I love that quote you added by AH. SO true.

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    1. If only Alfred were around to direct it!

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  7. I love a slow build-up like that. This sounds terrific!

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    1. The slow build up makes it almost impossible to pull away. Like watching a train wreck in slow motion: you don't want to see it, but you can't help wondering how it will all end up.

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  8. I have been glancing at this, but I haven't decided if it is for me. Your post does make it sound worth checking out!

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    1. Kailana, I think you'll really like it.

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  9. I loved it! Can't wait for his 2014 release.

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    1. Oooh, Diane! Glad to know there's something else coming out by Herman Koch. This is the first book of his which I've read.

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  10. I found this such a harrowing novel. Like you, I read it quite quickly and was completely taken in by the initial semblance of civility, only to realize what a mess both couples were in. Both families. Where to ascribe responsibility...

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    1. Harrowing is a perfect adjective! I also love how you said "the initial semblance of civility" because we come to find out it's anything but. Great comment, Theresa, summing up what I tried to say in several paragraphs.

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  11. I've been looking forward to reading this one - sounds great and different from a lot of stuff out there!

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    1. It is quite different. Well written, thought provoking and suspenseful all in one book.

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  12. I read this in just a day or two also... simply could not put it down. It would make for a very interesting book club discussion!

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    1. Wish I could discuss it in person with you, JoAnn. I can just see a book club getting almost fiesty over the discussion! But, not us. :)

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  13. This sounds fascinating! I love the Hitchcock comparison too. I remember somebody asking for several copies of the book when I was working in a bookshop last summer, and it does sound like something I'd like to read. Hope you're doing well! Lucy over at Tolstoy Therapy.

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    1. I wonder if they were asking for several copies for a book club...I didn't realize it was out last summer, but that's usually how long it takes for me to read something "hot". :) Hope you're doing well, too, Lucy. xo

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  14. Sounds like a fascinating book. I have never heard of it but will put it on my reading list. Or persuade my book club that we should read it. Sounds like a book that can generate a really good discussion.

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    1. I'm going to try to persuade my book club, too. Thanks for visiting me, Lisbeth.

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  15. I wasn't interested in this book before but you definitely piqued my interest, especially when you mentioned parenting and it being a thriller. I'm really, really curious now. Will definitely pick this up now, thaaank youu! x

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    1. So welcome, my friend. Would love to discuss it with you. I suspect you and Arti and I would all have similar feelings.

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  16. I started to read then put it away. started to read and put it away. You wrote an encouraging conclusion. Another book I have to remember.

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    1. Edgar, I think you have been busy with some worthy classics.

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  17. I've read a few reviews of this book with my eyes sorta averted so I wouldn't learn too much about it. I've had the feeling I couldn't bear the story, but you caught me with the Hitchcock comparison! I'll read it and come back to read your whole post with both eyes on it.

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    1. Well, Nan, I'm afraid that the story is a bit hard to bear (especially from us conscientious parents), but it is so interesting. So suspenseful. So well written. Hope we can discuss it if/after you read it.

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  18. I thought this was a marvelous book. I think I took more than a day with it but not much more. By then end I was glued to my chair, mouth hanging open in shocked horror. It ended up on my top ten list for the year, and likely would have been number one or two if I did that sort of count.

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    1. I only took one day because we've had such an incredible winter of snow and freezing temperatures that I've had little else to do but read (and cook and clean). I'll take a winter like this any year! ;) Anyway, I can certainly see how it would end up on your top ten list for the year.

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  19. Bellezza, I knew you would enjoy this one :) The Dinner is a fantastic book to read - there is just so much to explore over the course of a meal. I found myself thinking about the book for days afterward. Makes one wonder how far a parent will go to "protect" his/her child.

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    1. Isn't it interesting how the story parallels the course of a meal at a fine restaurant? Even the restaurant is concerned with keeping up appearances, much like one (or, now that I think about it, both) of the couples. I should have mentioned that in my review. It was the perfect setting for such a story.

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  20. This was quite a big deal here in Belgium and the Netherlands when it was published, I know that it really provoked a lot of discussion and divided readers. I was rather put off by all the brouhaha. But your review has intrigued me. I wonder if I can manage to read it in Dutch? I am sure the library has it...

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    1. Oh, I can see how it provoked a lot of discussion and division among readers. How wonderful to be able to read it in the original language!

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  21. I was just asking for book club suggestions, yesterday, and The Dinner was among those recommended. I've heard it stimulates noisy, divisive discussion. My group would probably love it for that reason alone. They seem to like shouting at each other. I love the fact that we can disagree loudly and then go home not thinking any less of each other.

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    1. The fact that you can all go home still loving each other after heated discussion is a reflection of a wise group. This book would definitely provide good discussion, and I wish I could skype in. xo

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  22. Your review is so spot on! This book was so amazing and I was on the edge of my seat through most of the last quarter.

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    1. And, even though I've turned the last page i find myself still thinking about it. For example, tonight I was pondering thenfather's tendency toward violence and how that permeated the whole family. Lots to think about, lots for a book club to discuss.

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  23. I've seen so many mixed reviews for this book and it hasn't really appealed to me until now. You're review has me intrigued and I do so love an edge-of-the-seat type of read, so this may be perfect for an upcoming trip with a longish flight (followed by a few day on the coast with nothing to do but read!!!).

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  24. Les, now I'm hoping I haven't built it up such that it exceeds expectations. I just was truly engrossed in the writing, the story, the characters. I suspect you will be too, and can I come on vacation with you?

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  25. You've just convinced me to read this book originating from my own country ;)

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  26. Sounds intriguing! I am heading to the library to pick up this book.

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