The Dinner by Herman Koch
Published by Hogarth, an imprint of Random House
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Two couples meet for dinner at a fancy, upscale restaurant in Amsterdam one seemingly innocent evening. The two men present are brothers, one is a very prominent politician, and they have met tonight to discuss something specific: they have just learned of a huge secret their sons have been hiding from them. While the dinner progresses smoothly along, there is this undercurrent of tension because all four parents know they must discuss the trouble their children have gotten themselves into, and nobody knows quite how to deal with the horrific thing the boys have done. As the evening nears to a close, each couple begins to reveal their true colors, and it becomes clear just how far they are willing to go to protect their boys, no matter what the cost.
I went into this book with zero expectations, and I think that was best because it wouldn’t have been like anything I could have possibly expected. The atmosphere of the novel is tense from the very first page, and I was drawn in by my interest in what the heck was going on with these families. The dynamic is an interesting one, because the book is told entirely from the point of view of the non-famous brother, so there is a bias upfront about what has happened, who is to blame, etc. And it’s almost impossible as a reader not to fall into that bias and be right there with the narrator in his thoughts and feelings.
The actual “issue” the couples are there to discuss isn’t revealed until towards the end of the novel, and it is just as horrifying as the reader can possibly dream it to be. What is more horrifying, though, is just what exactly these people are willing to do to save their sons from public disgrace and the punishment they truly deserve. It really is a study in human behavior and extreme parenting – I cannot imagine going to these lengths to protect my kid, but then again I have no kids, so I suppose I can’t really begin to comprehend.
It’s difficult for me to go into exactly what is so compelling and thoughtful about this novel without giving away too many details, so I’m going to stop here. But I will say that I found myself confused and not at all satisfied by the ending, so I’m interested in hearing what some other readers thought of how Koch chose to end the book. Besides the ending, though, I did enjoy The Dinner tremendously – it truly made me think, I couldn’t put it down, and I was pulled in by the characters and the writing from the very first page. Recommended.