It is nearly impossible to summarise The Dinner without giving pivotal plot points away, so I will have to keep this short and sweet:
In The Dinner, Herman Koch describes an evening out of two couples. Two brothers, one of which is an up-and-coming politician, and their wives have dinner together at a fancy restaurant. This dinner is not simply a social occasion. The couples have important issues to discuss, as their sons have been involved in a horrible event and they need to decide how they will handle the consequences. As the publisher’s summary states: “How far will each couple fo to protect their child?”
That last question is indeed an intriguing one. What will you do, what will you sacrifice, for the ones you love? This question drives the book, and it does not show us the pretty sides of that question or humanity. Instead, most of the people you meet are rather horrible. The Dinner has been compared with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (I gather at least partly for the characterisation), but I have not read Flynn’s books so I would not know..
While the pivotal question of “how far will you go” drives the book, it was not what I found most intriguing about it.
Yes, there is a “train wreck waiting to happen” and “I cannot possibly look away even though rationally I know I should want to” vibe to the book. You realise, almost from the very beginning, that something does not quite sit right here, that things might turn ugly.. It is fascinating and confronting and a little horrifying all at once.
However, it was the combination of this general plot with a critique of modern society that interested me most. The narrator, one of the brothers, carefully dissects all the wrongs he perceives in today’s society. It is not a pretty picture he paints: ego inflation, reputation, populism, all favoured over content or integrity. It is a stark picture, a little too stark at times, but it is all brought forth in such a manner that it becomes strangely easy to agree.
There is more to this, that I cannot disclose for spoiler-y reasons.. Let me just say that as the plot, narration, and characterisation progresses, Koch manages to add more layers to this critique and involves the characters ever more deeply in the story’s “trouble” until they reveal their own ruptures. In some ways the whole thing comes full circle as the reader becomes somewhat complicit in this critique of sensationalism, knowing from the start that this is the train wreck kind of story.
I am sorry if this all sounds rather vague. The problem is that I do not want to reveal too much, but I also know that had I read what I have written above, I would not have convinced myself to give this a try.. I know because I have resisted reading this book for years. First, during the hype in the Netherlands. Later, having to conquer feelings of doubt as it became relatively big in translation (while also irrationally glad to see it on the shelves in the UK). I am not good with stories that contain the word “horrible event” in the plot summary, or a summary that glorifies the horrible in a way that I think I might be doing above, and I have been pretty good at ignoring them throughout the years.
Am I happy that I gave this a try anyway? I certainly am. I was very nervous about reading this, but surprisingly discovered that as soon as I started reading, I was compelled to read on.
Am I convinced? I have been thinking about this in the past couple of weeks. On the one hand, I want to answer with a resounding YES. There is undoubted strength in this book, insightful if somewhat frightening ideas, and as I have mentioned before, it is utterly compelling in a strange way. On the other hand, Koch takes things to an extreme. This works in most of the book, but I still have not decided how I feel about the end. Was it the perfect ending? Or was it, instead, just a little too extreme to realise its full potential?
I do not think I will ever be able to fully decide. But if you have read The Dinner, I would love to discuss. Seriously, this book is perfect for discussion and debate.
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If you are convinced you want to give this book a try, despite my rather hazy post, this is your lucky day as I will be giving away one copy of the book!
- Open internationally, or at least to everywhere the bookdepository* ships;
- All you need to do is leave a comment on this post to state your interest;
- Make sure this comment includes an email address so I can contact you (this can be the one provided in the details section and does not have to be public);
- Extra entry: If you are participating in Dutch Lit Month and publish one or more posts about Dutch Lit. In that case, make sure you leave a link in your comment, or to add an extra comment as Dutch Lit Fortnight progresses;
- Giveaway closes on June 30, midnight. I will email the winner.
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Other Opinions: Boston Bibliophile, Leeswammes, Lizzy’s Literary Life, Winstonsdad’s Blog, Farm Lane Books, Book Addiction, That’s What She Read, Book Chase, Bookalicious Babe, books are my favourite and best, Bibliophile by the Sea, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, Amy’s Book Obsession, Reading in the Bath, Curled up with a Good Book and a Cup of Tea, Book Chase, Yours?