Monday, March 25, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Dutch author, Herman Koch, serves up a multi-course meal of mental manipulation in The Dinner – a novel that became an instant international best seller after its publication in the Netherlands in 2009. The setting is a trendy and very expensive Amsterdam cafe, where ordinary people have to wait months for a table, but not when the reservation is for Serge Lohman, a diplomat presumably on the way to becoming the Prime Minister. On the evening that encompasses the entire plot present of the novel, he is dining with his wife, Babette, and his brother, Paul, and his wife, Claire. The evening, and the novel itself, is divided into five courses – Apertif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert and Digestif. With each new course a bit more of the story is served through flashbacks narrated by Paul. Paul is a classic unreliable narrator and my patience with him was thin even before the main course when the tragic event involving the teenage sons – cousins – of the two couples is revealed. Their boys have committed a heartless crime – but plot digression reveals that the heartlessness in this family may be thicker than a little heap of “lasagna slices with eggplant and ricotta held together with a toothpick” on Paul’s plate. This family’s moral fiber has unravelled long before this dinner. If this book is a five course meal, I have to admit it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. All of the characters are flawed, the stealthy and riveting plot twists that the cover blurbs promise are unfulfilled. At best, the book is a dark satire about the inhumanity society is capable of accepting as palatable.

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