Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Dinner (Herman Koch)

Koch, Herman - Het Diner


Title: The Dinner (Het Diner)
Author: Herman Koch
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 2009
Edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by Anthos (in Dutch)

It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse – the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

This was definitely an interesting book. The synopsis suggests that the book is set during one evening. This is not quite right. There are flashbacks that flesh out the story.

The narrative is not so much about what is being said, but also about what is being left out. which is an interesting tactic. All the characters, from the parents that are having dinner in a posh restaurant to the sons of these couples, are vile. Seriously, all of these people have issues! I don’t mind unlikeable characters, but these really took the biscuit.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that these people are discussing some very sensitive information about their sons a dinner in a restaurant. It seems absolutely ridiculous to me.

Yet, I did enjoy this book and the revolting characters. It was strangely fascinating. I grew up in The Netherlands, where this story is set, and I returned to live here five years ago, and my conclusion is that this book is incredibly Dutch.  I am glad I decided to read it in its native language because of that. The way these people interact, think and talk feels very Dutch to me.  I just recognise too many people I have known here in these characters ( Luckily there are many lovely Dutch people in real life!). Is that weird or worrying?

Did I love this book? No, in the end there was nothing to root for, which is a bit of an issue for me. The ending was unsatisfactory, but I am not sure how I would have preferred it to end. The ending does seem right for the tone of the book.

If you enjoy an uncomfortable slow book, you could do worse than chose to read this book.

4 out of 7 stars


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