The Dinner by Herman Koch (& GIVEAWAY)

The Dinner - Herman KochThe Dinner – Herman Koch
Translated from the Dutch Het Diner by Sam Garrett

Atlantic Books, 2012 
Review copy from the publisher
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

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.

–  –  –

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.

–  –  –

Other Opinions: Boston Bibliophile, Leeswammes, Lizzy’s Literary LifeWinstonsdad’s Blog, Farm Lane Books, Book Addiction, That’s What She Read, Book ChaseBookalicious 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?

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

30 thoughts on “The Dinner by Herman Koch (& GIVEAWAY)

  1. Leeswammes

    Great review, Iris. I re-read it recently because of the international hype about it. I thought it was brilliant. I think the ending was maybe a bit too strong, a sort-of bulldozer ending.🙂

  2. Lauren

    I just finished the book last night so I 100% can understand why you’re being vague. At first I had a hard time getting into the book, but once I got into 100 pages or so I couldn’t put it down!

    1. Iris Post author

      After finishing this book I was desperate for someone to discuss it with! I want to be vague becuase I do not want to spoilt anything, but at the same time I wish to discuss the more detailed things as well! Tough choice🙂

  3. Sharkell

    I would love to put my name in for a copy of this book. I am from Australia and I remember one of our local booksellers saying this was their favourite book of the year (I can’t remember if this was last year or the year before) and it has been on my radar since.

  4. sandynawrot

    I am reviewing this book today too! I find it interesting to see what aspect each reviewer is drawn to…the question about protecting your child, the state of society, or the unreliable narrator. What continuously knocked me off balance was how the narrator managed to continually shock me with pieces of information about himself, oh so very subtly. I think that is why the book has been compared to Gone Girl. I’m thinking this one is going to be on my top books of the year. The audio, BTW, was phenomenal!

    1. Iris Post author

      I’m definitely in the category of people who enjoyed the last two things you mentioned: societal commentary and the unreliable narrator. I wasn’t sure whether to reveal that part, would that count as a spoiler? He really had me wrapped around his finger and then the bombs started dropping. I mean, subtle ones, but oh so uncomfortable! Looking forward to your post today and I’m glad to hear the audio is good.

  5. rhapsodyinbooks

    I have been so intrigued by the reactions to this book that I am really interested in reading it. I also like books that can’t really be reviewed for spoileryness, because that usually makes it more fun to read them! So please enter me!

    nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

  6. Marie

    I am so interested in reading this book, and even more so after reading your review! All the reviews I’ve read are shrouded in mystery. I can’t imagine what goes on between the pages but I know I want to find out! Many thanks for the giveaway.

  7. farmlanebooks

    I enjoyed this book, but I do think the ending was a little too extreme. It could have been a lot scarier if the events had been toned down to make them a bit more realistic. The world is a scary enough place – there is no need to exaggerate things!

  8. Care

    I so prefer this book cover. Gotta love the lobster.
    You did an excellent job reviewing this – telling quite a bit but nothing TOO much. I found it extremely uncomfortable (and compelling) and couldn’t ever quite say I ‘liked’ it. In fact, I really did NOT like it but am glad to have read it so I can say I did.

  9. Stacy

    This seems like the kind of book that I should put on the top of my to-read pile . . . but there’s just so many books to read! Thanks for doing the giveaway. This is actually my first comment on any blog, although i browse a lot. This feels like a big step🙂

  10. Lucy

    This does sound good, and the question of sacrifice is always an interesting one.

    A lot of people ordered it at the bookshop I work at, and I’ve read other positive reviews. Perhaps I’ll try it!

  11. Leah

    I would like to enter your giveaway. I’ve heard great things about this book, and I’m particularly interested in the social commentary aspect of it. Nice review!

    My email is mosherleah (at) gmail (dot) com.

  12. jaynesbooks

    I have been hearing a lot of good things about this book and would like to be entered in the giveaway as well.

    My email is history_buff (at) hotmail (dot) com.

  13. Pingback: Wrapping Up Dutch Lit Fortnight | Iris on Books

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