The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner Image

Brief Summary:
Two couples come together at a dinner to discuss the morally disconcerting actions of their children, and end up tasting the darkness of their own souls in the process.

The Tsundoku Scale:
Middle of the Pile, 4 out of 10.  The blurb of this book gives it more substance than it actually contains, as Herman Koch crosses the fine line between ‘shocking’ and absurdity.

The Good:
The Dinner has a great voice.  Paul, the narrator, is perfect for the role with his dark, wry humor.  What’s more, the story is quick-paced and not hard to read at all, which is especially hard to do since the whole story takes place within this one dinner between the Lohman couples.  Perhaps, most surprising of all, are the developments of Paul and his wife Claire throughout the novel–for while the focus of The Dinner is on the children, we learn quite a lot about their parents, and their own troubling history.

The Bad:
It’s contradictory, how the novel strives for anonymity by refusing to name hospitals, streets, etc., and yet it puts Serge Lohman, the famous Prime Minister candidate, as the brother of the narrator.  What’s the point of anonymity in a story if one of your characters is famous!  Further, for a novel marketed to be a psychologically unsettling thriller, The Dinner lacks the in-depth back story, or the graphic descriptions such a book needs to make it so.  When we find out what the children have done, it is like watching the news on TV–yes the crime is terrible, but without really knowing the people involved or seeing graphic images, it is hard to be gut-wrenchingly disturbed.  And speaking of watching the news, would you really believe that a husband and wife who are on good terms with one another would: sit on a couch, watch a crime on the news, realize from watching that crime that their son and his cousin were the perpetrators, and then proceed to keep that knowledge to themselves for weeks unsure whether the other knows about the crime, instead of immediately talking about the crime with one another?  Well, that’s exactly what happens in The Dinner, a book that is disturbingly absurd.