Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

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April 14, 2016
You know that question everyone is always asking, “if you could have dinner with any author/celebrity/historical figure, dead or alive, who would it be and why?”? I think someone asked Herman Koch a similar question and he got so into it that he wrote a whole book about it.

So, Herman, if you could have dinner with some of the worst people in the whole world, who would they be and why?


The story opens with Paul, our narrator, lamenting the fact that he and his wife, Claire, are expected to meet his brother Serge and sister-in-law Babette for dinner that evening, not only because they’re meeting at a fancy, fashionable restaurant (which isn’t Paul’s style at all), but because he’s not very fond of his brother Serge in the first place.

Plus, there’s that one other reason that keeps this from being a regular family gathering to catch up and have a good time… No, why they’re actually there is to talk about their children, two 15-year-old boys who were caught on camera committing a heinous crime.

The Dinner is classified as satire and before reading it, I had this idea that satire was supposed to be funny, but this book didn’t make me laugh. It made me uneasy more than once, disgusted by the characters’ actions and frustrated that once again, there was no justice anywhere (I should probably start letting go of that idea…). Someone on Goodreads informed me that satire can be funny, yes, but it can also be biting, bitter, angry or sad and then it clicked. Yes, that’s exactly what this book is! All of it. And though initially I wasn’t very impressed with it, once I stood corrected I could actually see that the author did a great job getting his point across.

Told in parts titled as dinner courses, the evening progresses slowly as the narrator takes us back and forth through the series of events that led to him and his wife meeting his brother and sister-in-law for dinner, showing the obvious reluctance he has of breaching the very serious topic by the way he distracts and diverts the conversation every time his brother tries to bring it up again. It’s a classic case of unreliable narrator and you start realizing how unreliable and a poor judge of character he truly is as the novel progresses and their personalities and true intentions are revealed..

There are no likable characters in this novel at all. They’re all just awful, self-absorbed, morally corrupted and sometimes even scary... and I actually enjoyed that. It reminds me of a thing the narrator says at one point, where he believes that a world without violence would be a terrible, boring place; this novel would have been a terrible, boring book had it not been for these awful people making awful life decisions with no regrets. The way they acted was gross and even though I was hoping they would get their comeuppance, there was a part of me that was enjoying the fact that they seemed to be getting away with everything!

Through this dark, unfunny and only vaguely suspenseful satire, the author makes a lot of valid points about the state of society these days, things I found myself agreeing with sometimes but that made me extremely uneasy when I realized who I was actually agreeing with. It’s an eye opener to our own prejudices and a glimpse into the mind of those who hold prejudices we don’t or can’t comprehend.

My only problem with this book was the pace. It was an interesting and actually challenging read, but I feel like it could have been a shorter book! In what I suspect was the author’s attempt at building up suspense, the story moves too slow and the narrator often goes on rants that feel repetitive and I found myself rolling my eyes a few times hoping he would just get on with it and get to the good part already. I also never felt “thrilled”, mostly intrigued by what the crime in question was and how the story would resolve itself in the end.

The Dinner is a good book with an awful story where nothing is what it seems, so if you ever read it, go in with an open mind, expect to hate every character and get ready to be shocked by the lengths people will go to protect themselves and those they love.

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1 comment on "Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch"
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