Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

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From Goodreads:
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.

It’s very hard to write this review without giving away the best thing about this short novel; the shock factor. It starts out as a simple story about the hassle of dining with another couple. It’s told by Paul, a regular guy with a regular family. The beginning premise of a simple dinner date and general dinner banter is relatable and somewhat humorous. Over the course of the dinner things start to get tense. There are glimpses of an underlying problem, fractures in the normalcy the characters are trying to convey. Paul isn’t the regular guy we thought he was.

Then, BAM! Dessert hits the table and it all turns south. The evening plummets downhill with such a surprising, horrific and tragic turn. As a parent of teenage boys I found the second half of the story disturbing. This, at least, kept me turning the pages. I’m not sure whose actions were more disturbing, the boys or their parents. I was most disturbed by Paul’s wife. Her acceptance of the circumstances and eagerness to take it into her own hands is, dare I say it, monstrous.

This is definitely a book you have to work to get through. The first half is drawn out and too much time is spent on descriptions of restaurant staff and food or lack there of. The second half, I thought was too vague. There wasn’t enough background on the couple’s sons to understand, if that’s possible, their behavior. I also felt that the ending was too abrupt.

This is a great book for discussion though. It opens up questions regarding how far parents are willing to go to protect their children, consequences, punishments and what out duty is to our own family and others.

Although a tad tedious in parts, the twist in this book makes it a story worth reading.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley.

View this book on Goodreads.
View this book on Amazon.

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