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The Dinner Paperback – October 29, 2013
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2013: A good unreliable narrator is one of the most satisfying characters a novelist can dream up--and Herman Koch takes us on a hell of a ride through the mind of Paul Lohman, the deliciously sinister host of The Dinner. Paul's 15-year-old son, Michel, has committed an unspeakable crime; his brother, on the cusp of becoming the Netherlands' next prime minister, has a delicate wife and two teenagers who share Michel’s secret; Paul's wife, Claire, will do anything to protect their boy. As the two couples inch through an excruciating meal at a chic restaurant--their children's whereabouts uncertain--Paul peels back the layers of their situation, weaving to and fro through time and truth. Koch's finely structured story gives away just enough on each page to keep us riveted, feeling like private investigators on the verge of discovery, until the shock of an ending. It's no small feat for the author that the less we trust Paul, the more we want to hear what he has to say. --Mia Lipman --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Already a runaway hit throughout Europe, boasting more than a million copies sold, Koch’s sixth novel arrives stateside, giving readers here a chance to mull over some rather meaty moral quandaries. But not so fast. First, Koch has a few false paths to lead us down. The story starts off casually and unassumingly with a dinner between two brothers, one running for prime minister of the Netherlands, along with their wives at one of Amsterdam’s finest establishments. The other brother, as narrator, sharply ridicules every absurd element of the night to great effect. But just as everything settles in, Koch pivots, and these pointed laughs quickly turn to discussion about their teenage boys and something they’ve done. And it’s at this point when readers will feel two distinct ideologies forming and will face the novel’s vital question: which position to side with? Koch’s organic style makes for a continuously engaging read that, if anything, leaves readers wanting more. Another 100 pages or so exploring these issues further would have been more than welcome, but what is here will no doubt stir some heady debates. --Casey Bayer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
Two couples are meeting for dinner. But the dinner is a pretext to discuss an important topic affecting their lives. This forms the basic premise of the story. In order to make the novel engaging, Herman Koch uses the perspective of one participant to narrate the story. Like a dish which exudes a particular flavor but reveals the different ingredients with each bite, the story unfolds during the progression of different courses revealing the psychological layout of different characters. What appears on the surface is different from what is beneath it.
The main theme of the book is hypocrisy and hatred. The style of writing and how the narrator of the story thinks makes us laugh initially at the various conclusions and then force us to think deeply about our surroundings with society included.
This is a compelling read if you love to read drama.
While some people disliked the main character, Paul, and found his internal monologues to be too much, I related to him and appreciated this because it provides a very natural sense of knowing him... and allows the reader to "know him better than he knows himself." This is actually very important to understanding and interpreting the book because although the plot revolves around the two families' sons, they are far from being central characters. Instead, you relate to bits and pieces of each of the adults, and while you may not agree with their respective actions, or even life choices, you find yourself posing the questions: "What would I do in that situation?" and "How far would I go to protect my own family?"
The only big gripe I have about the book, is that it takes place in an up-scale public restaurant! If they're discussing knowledge that only they know about, and with dire consequences on the line, wouldn't they be smart enough to pick a place much more private?--Where no one would overhear them discussing this public incident and their unfortunate connection to all of it? And how NO one reacts or overhears their conversation while the narrator explicitly states that during some more heated portions of their discussion, people four tables away could hear them.
Overall, this is a great book and just the "palate cleanser" that I needed. I would highly recommend "The Dinner" to anyone who enjoys critical thinking and reflecting.
If you want a page turning thriller, this may not be for you. This is like the suspense of Christmas drawn out over December when you were a kid: masterfully unrushed, and yet, edge of your seat twitch-worthy. The novel isn't exactly "slow"...you catch on pretty quickly that there is a very large elephant in the restaurant, but no one is talking about it. You can feel it breathing there, behind you, but you cannot turn around. Sometimes, just as you're about to despair that no one is going to let you in on it, you get a slip, a taste, a nuance, and again, you are rooted to your seat.
As the elephant emerges, hair by thrillingly painstaking hair, you realize that this is one disaster of magnificent proportions, a nightmare of every parent's darkest thoughts and that you are both dying to know and afraid that you'd rather not. Either way, what happens after this dinner will change the lives of everyone at the table...in fact, by the end of the book, you realize that the damage and fallout will send a shockwave into society at large and take no prisoners.
And when you close the book, the best or worst part: realizing that this could so easily be you...maybe not in the exact same way, but that everyone has a weak spot, that, if threatened, can bring out the unimaginable.