Herman Koch’s mesmerizing and disturbing novel starts out slowly, as two couples meet for dinner at a pricey, somewhat snobbish restaurant in Amsterdam. The two men are brothers: Serge, in the midst of a campaign to become the prime minister of the Netherlands, and Paul, a high school teacher. Paul and his wife Claire arrive first, as usual, for as Paul well knows, Serge “never arrived on time anywhere,” preferring to make a grand entrance.
Paul’s aversion to this whole evening planned by Serge and his wife Babette escalates with the arrival of each skimpy yet ridiculously overpriced course. From the “Greek olives from the Peloponnese, lightly dressed in first-pressing, extra-virgin olive oil from Sardinia,” to the tiny 19-euro appetizer lost in the “vast emptiness” of Claire’s plate, to the miniscule portions of guinea fowl accompanied by a mere shred of lettuce, Paul becomes increasingly fascinated with the “yawning chasm between the dish itself and the price you have to pay for it.”
At this point, the reader assumes that The Dinner will remain what it seems on the surface to be—a subtle, yet piercing, skewering of the haughty, conceited, upper-class brother by his intellectually superior, middle-class sibling. But as the main courses arrive, the reason for the arranged dinner becomes clear: The four of them must deal with the shocking actions taken by their 15-year-old sons against a homeless person. The reader is drawn into their dispute, forced to think about what he or she would do in a similar situation. How hard is it to admit our children’s failings—and how far are we willing to go to protect them?
Koch’s fast-paced, addictive novel raises these questions and more. Readers will be able to identify with the faults and fears of each of his perceptively drawn characters. Already a bestseller in Europe, The Dinner is sure to find an enthusiastic American readership as well.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Originally published in 2009, this best-selling Dutch novel is now available in English so the world can indulge in the dark comedy of award-winning author Koch (Save Us, Maria Montanelli). At an upscale restaurant in the Netherlands, two couples have dinner and a much-needed conversation about their sons. Koch employs the narrative frame of a menu (aperitif, appetizer) to slowly unveil how these couples know each other and the rippling effect their children's actions have caused. By the time dessert is served, the reader knows that the two men are brothers, and the narrative takes on Tolstoyan overtones, with each unhappy family unhappy in its own way. In a single setting, Koch successfully deploys multiple narratives of a single event to effectively show that our construction of history, and constant attempts at overdetermining the future, is problematic. VERDICT A shocking, humorous, and entertaining novel that effectively uses a misanthropic narrator in leading us through a fancy dinner, with morally savage undertones. Recommend for fans of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage and Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap. [See Prepub Alert, 8/27/12.]--Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH[Page 81]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This chilling novel starts out as a witty look at contemporary manners in the style of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage before turning into a take-no-prisoners psychological thriller. The Lohman brothers, unemployed teacher Paul and politician Serge, a candidate for prime minister, meet at an expensive Amsterdam restaurant, along with their respective spouses, Claire and Babette, to discuss a situation involving their respective 15-year-old sons, Michel and Rick. At first, the two couples discuss such pleasantries as wine and the new Woody Allen film. But during this five-course dinner, from aperitif to digestif, secrets come out that threaten relations between the two families. To say much more would spoil the breathtaking twists and turns of the plot, which slowly strips away layers of civility to expose the primal depths of supposedly model citizens, not to mention one character's past history of mental illness and violence. With dark humor, Koch dramatizes the lengths to which people will go to preserve a comfortable way of life. Despite a few too-convenient contrivances, this is a cunningly crafted thriller that will never allow you to look at a serviette in the same way again. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC