Shizuku7148 The Dinner:Shizuku7148
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The Dinner:Shizuku7148

Herman Koch
Herman Koch Published in October 20, 2018, 9:11 pm
 The Dinner:Shizuku7148

The Dinner:Shizuku7148

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FictionFan Reply to on 22 June 2015
Paul and Claire meet for dinner with Paul's brother Serge and his wife Babette quite often, and Paul usually finds them uncomfortable occasions, having a contempt born out of jealousy for his brother's successful political career. But on this occasion, things are more tense than usual because the two families need to talk about an incident involving their children. When it becomes obvious they're not going to agree on how to handle the situation, the tension begins to grow and the conventions of polite behaviour begin to fall apart. The question the book asks is - how far would you go to protect your children?

The book gets off to a flying start, with some great observational humour as Paul, the narrator, looks forward apprehensively to the evening ahead. Koch is great at 'showing' rather than 'telling' and we learn as much about Paul's relationship with his wife and brother from reading between the lines as from what he actually says. But this is only the first layer of the onion - as the book progresses, outward appearances are stripped away until eventually each character is laid bare to us in all their prejudices and flaws. And a pretty unsavoury bunch they are, with Paul himself turning out to be far more complex than he gives us to believe at the beginning. The whole thing slowly becomes very dark, and though it's clearly heading for a dramatic climax, it's not at all obvious what that will be until it arrives.

I read Koch's Summer House with Swimming Pool a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The twisted morality and dark storyline mixed with some great black humour to make an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The focus was on the father and asked the same question - what would you do to protect your children? I've noticed that many people who read The Dinner first found Summer House a bit disappointing because it trod a similar path. Reading them in reverse, I found The Dinner a little disappointing for the same reason.

The Dinner is one of those books where it's important to know as little as possible going in to get the full effect of the various surprises, so I'll say no more about the plot. But there were a couple of other things that made me like it a little less than Summer House. Though there is some good observational humour in The Dinner, it doesn't have quite the edge as in Summer House. In it, the humour is often cruel, but wickedly close to what we maybe all think but don't say from time to time - and then feel appalled at ourselves for thinking it. In this one, I didn't get that feeling of delicious recognition and guilt - the humour was more straightforward. But the big difference - and I'll have to be a little oblique to avoid spoilers - is that there is some small degree of moral justification for the actions in Summer House, but absolutely none that I could accept in The Dinner. Therefore while I had some sympathy for some characters in Summer House, I had none at all for any of them in The Dinner.

But the mild disappointment in this one is only because of the comparison. In itself, this is a good dark psychological thriller, where the quality of the writing and characterisation helps to get the reader past the lack of credibility at some parts of the story - for most of the time. Personally, I found the ending asked me to suspend my disbelief a little too much, but this didn't destroy my enjoyment of the book overall. The translation from the original Dutch is again by Sam Garrett, who does another very fine job with it. I'll be interested to see where Koch's dark imagination takes us in future...
Rachel Reply to on 8 November 2013
I'm not sure I really liked this book. I picked it up because I enjoyed the sound of a novel taking place over a short period of time - in the case a meal in a restaurant. However, it takes a long while to get into the discussion of the point of the meal and even then very little is made from it. There is too much discussion of the food itself and descriptions of the surroundings and irrelevant people to the plot. Many things were alluded to such as a heredity disease one of the fathers had, and one of the mothers was in hospital was in hospital for a period of time without actually mentioning what was wrong. This really annoyed me as it seemed relevant to the plot in places and therefore needed to be explained further.

The main aspect of the plotline related to violence but the author almost seemed to trivialise it as lot of it (including the main violent act which is the main focus of the plot), seemed to be swept under the carpet quickly and the author then moved on to more trivial aspects. The ending I think was meant to be a shock to show how far parents would go to protect their child but is just seemed wrong and very much out of the blue and again over in less than a chapter. It was very disappointing and wouldn't make me want to read anything else by Herman Koch.
Martin Grundy
Martin Grundy Reply to on 21 November 2014
This 21st century novel is set in the Netherlands and was originally written in Dutch, but the translation is so good that you would never know (except for the references to Dutch places and culture).

The courses of a meal in a restaurant are used as the framework for flashbacks that gradually reveal the history and relationships of those eating the meal, and of their families. This technique is very skilfully used to tantalise the reader with hints and suggestions, but not in an annoying way. Be assured that the author explains everything in the end.

Although the action essentially takes place in a single evening, this is by no means a short story and the flashbacks range widely over the recent and the more distant past. It certainly keeps you guessing and wanting to read on to find out more.

My only very minor criticisms are that none of the characters is very likeable, the narrator does not seem to have any way of earning a living (although he is not short of money) and the ending is a little abrupt. However, I recommend ignoring these insignificant drawbacks and seeing if you can predict how the story will end.

The eBook is of a good quality with only a small handful of errors that should have been weeded out during proof reading.
Ignite Reply to on 24 September 2014
This is a tight, almost claustrophobic, story of two couples meeting for dinner in an expensive restaurant. They are two brothers and their wives who meet because they want to discuss something their sons have done. It's the kind of story that's like a swimming swan - there's much more going on under the surface than is visible above it. One of the brothers is running for Prime Minister in a forthcoming election and is concerned with his prospects and how things look to outsiders. His brother is an ex-history teacher who left his job with health issues. So much here is implied rather than stated but it leaves no doubt that he has a possibly heritable condition leaving the sufferer with a propensity to violence. The sons have been seen on CCTV footage committing an atrocity but only their families are able to recognise them from the poor quality film.

I see that reviewers are divided about this book. The characters are not at all sympathetic and many readers want to like or side with a character. If you can get past this, the story gives much food for thought. Would you protect your child more than you would desire to uphold justice? How much of our opinions, views and behaviour are inherited and how much learned? I read this in a couple of days. It grabbed tightly me and wouldn't let go.
Lola Reply to on 6 December 2015
After Summer House with Swimming Pool, which I really loved, I thought this would be a really special treat. But no - and I cannot put a finger on why a no! The subject is interesting, the whole drama taking place "in real time", descriptions of the dinner courses and glimpses into the past are both engaging and revealing. Themes of violence, family ties and psychological health of a human-being are interesting and definitely thought-provoking. But alas, the dinner finished with quite a blah digestif. I wanted to dig deeper!

To sum up with a quote: "Are you innocent when you throw a desk lamp at someone's head, but guilty when you set that same person on fire?" Just a glimpse of the various dilemmas in the book.
AnnaLivia Reply to on 19 July 2014
A very readable and beautifully structured novel which raises some interesting issues - do children learn from our example, the nature of crime, the extent of loyalty to those we love. Not psychologically true (would a mother encourage her child to commit murder? would a wife be so in love with a husband who is a borderline psychotic and has been unemployed for ten years?) but forgivable because of the well crafted structure: a single event - the dinner - intertwined with flashbacks slowly revealing backstory and motivations which keep you reading. Also some interesting glimpses into Dutch values: just like the rest of us, dislike of insincere politicians and pretentious restaurants. Recommended.
cartoon Reply to on 9 December 2014
How far would you go to protect your child and keep your family unit safe and sound ? What secrets hide behind the smiling façade of a sibling dinner? How rarely do we say and mean what we actually say ? This is a brilliant book , I was hooked from the opening chapter; the satire of the gourmet posh restaurant and the waiter with the pointy pinky finger and the tiny portions of pretentious food made me laugh out loud . Then his becomes a far far darker book . It deals with the family morality as does the also fabulous The Slap but then goes much darker , a series of unlikable characters and it is an utterly likable tale . Next time you look at your fellow diners you will really wonder what they are arguing over.
Anna Reply to on 21 July 2013
The Dinner sets out to demonstrate how two sets of parents deal with the realisation that their sons have been involved in a serious crime. The plot is structured around an arranged dinner between the parents (the fathers are brothers) to manage the situation. The background to the crime and family are revealed retrospectively during the course of the evening.

The novel is written in the first person, it is the voice of the main protagonist who often has disturbing reactions to events in his son's life and his own. I use the word disturbing because the main protagonist reacts violently to these situations.
The narrative however is full of many thoughtful observations about parenting, families, siblings and relationships and in particular sibling rivalry.

This is a gripping and dramatic novel but written in a strangely calm and detached style, it reflects on how far parents will go to preserve their children's future and their family's happiness. It is because of this detached style the reader is often drawn into sympathising with the parents as they rationalise their rather surprising attitudes and actions. The outcome however is shocking.

I thought both the structure and the style of the novel worked really well and the dynamics of the brother's relationship very true to life as was the setting in the expensive restaurant with its pretentious staff. Although the novel deals with an unsettling issue it is not without humour. It highlights prejudices in society, the evident lack of a moral compass in a desperate situation, ambition and wanting the do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.

A very thoughtful and worthwhile read and an excellent translation.
Penny Farthing
Penny Farthing Reply to on 19 October 2014
I was recommended this book on an internet forum and have recommended it to a few other people since. I have been fascinated by the many different interpretations people have put on the characters and the storyline - from downright disgust to total boredom. However, it is the kind of book I like, as it makes you think. What would you do in a such a situation? Which character was the most honest?
A friend said he enjoyed the first half and found it very funny in a quirky sort of way but couldn't understand why it got so dark and serious halfway through. I thought this was the whole point of the story, that the narrator was showing his brother up in a fairly bad light - putting on airs and graces, pretending to be someone he wasn't - until we discover that life (people) aren't all black and white but different shades of grey and so many different layers.
All the action takes place over a dinner in a posh restaurant and I enjoyed it immensely - the way the tension built up as the truth gradually emerged. A book I shall definitely be going back to time and time again.
Mrs F McCarten
Mrs F McCarten Reply to on 28 March 2018
Good Grief ..... I am left with an overwhelming feeling of 'Really? - What was the point!'
Not a credible story line, pointless characters ... wish I had spent my precious time on something else quite frankly!
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