The Dinner by Herman Koch

9780770437855The 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.


15 thoughts on “The Dinner by Herman Koch”

  1. I had an egalley of this but never got to it. It does sound interesting but not sure,it’s,for me. So hope,someone else has some thoughts for you.

  2. So the story takes place solely at a dinner? That sounds fascinating, lots of scope for characterisation. Usually I’d be put off by bias, but when done as you’ve described and you know you might be being lead on it can work really well. I might have to look this one up!

  3. I hadn’t heard of this one before, but now you’ve got me more than a little intrigued, and I want to go search it out so that we can talk about it! It sounds like a very emotionally taut book, and one that keeps you on your toes all the way to the end. This was a great review. I am off to look for it!!

  4. You know, I am still a little amazed to see a Dutch author receive so much attention: first in the UK and now even on US blogs. Herman Koch is one of the bigger (biggest?) names in the circle of Dutch authors in the last few years.. I’m ashamed to admit I have yet to read anything by him, but I do have The Dinner lined up (as well as another book by him that hasn’t been translated to English). You’re very welcome to add this review to the Dutch lit database, btw.
    (I hate including links in comments, but I figured it might be easier to find this way).

  5. I was the same way- had no idea what it would be about and was blown away. Finished it two days ago and still thinking about it. It speaks to our times- which is kind of scary.

  6. I admit I am totally curious about what the awful thing is. For some reason, I have one scenario stuck in my mind that it probably is but I will have to read it to see if I am right, won’t I? 🙂

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