Herman Koch has written a dark satire that is more tragedy than anything else. THE DINNER has become an international sensation.
I put off reading THE DINNER for a long time. I had heard that it was dark, very dark. And that it was quite disturbing. Why bother, I told myself. Then Elaine Newton decided chose it for one of her six seasonal lectures at Artis-Naples this year. Finally, I bent. And then once I read it, off I trotted to hear Elaine’s lecture. Only then did I totally “get” the book.
I read this novel in the space of 24 hours. I found it very compelling. Very. And dark. And disturbing. All the things I had heard already. But I have my own take on this book. I believe Koch has shown us a side of humanity that we choose to ignore. And one that we do not like because we may even see a side of ourselves in it.
This novel takes place over dinner. Hence the name. Not just any dinner. A dinner shared by two brothers and their wives. They’ve come to this very upscale and snobbish eatery to discuss their fifteen-year-old sons. You see, the boys have been bad. You might even say they’ve been evil. They’ve committed a crime that they may not be able to come back from. How to deal with this?
The meal takes place over five courses. Elaine Newton likened the five courses to a tragedy. Five acts. Over each course the selections were eked out in tedious detail. At times even becoming obnoxious. The tension mounts as dinner progresses. And Paul, the unreliable narrator, becomes less and less reliable, even becoming unhinged. What began as a somewhat edgy encounter between Paul and his brother Serge, subtly becomes surly and mean.
There are flashbacks of events leading up to this point in Paul’s life. They are especially disturbing and we begin to feel uncomfortable with his story. Koch is the master at this. And I find myself turning the pages quicker and quicker.
The question arises. How far would you go to protect your child? And why? It is a question no parent is comfortable even contemplating. But that is the question at hand in this novel.
Herman Koch has based his novel on an event that occurred in Spain a few years ago. To think that something of this magnitude actually happened is unbearable. But it did, indeed.
You will have plenty of questions when you finish THE DINNER. You may even feel haunted. You will most definitely wish to discuss it with someone. What a great book for clubs! This story gives a whole different face to You Tube. Read and wonder.