The Dinner – Review

May 25, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch is… complicated.

Two couples meet for dinner at a restaurant in Amsterdam. What seems like a nice (or, at most, tedious) evening out slowly escalates as the meal progresses and tension bubbles up toward the surface. Every one knows that eventually the conversation will have to turn toward why they’ve gathered tonight — their children and the shocking event monopolizing media attention.

The Dinner does not explore good and evil, but delves into the morally ambiguous and then the (personally) repellant. The characters (particularly the people with whom I felt I was supposed to sympathize or identify) probe those grey areas surrounding what you would do for those you love.

Even before The Dinner takes a turn for the horrific, I found myself slightly appalled by these characters. Which is, of course, Koch’s intention. He’s sneaky that way. The narration lulls you into a false sense of normalcy and the revelations that everything is a bit twisted are small at first. By the end though, it’s all loops and hairpin turns and you might as well throw out your compass because every direction is south.

So, to reiterate: The Dinner is complicated. Koch has crafted this story masterfully and the result is provocative and bizarre and disturbing. I have lost count of how many times I’ve now said it here, but you don’t have to like the characters to like the book. My go-to example for that mantra has always been Salinger’s work, but that’s going out the window because this is what I’m talking about.

Just go read it. It may make you pull back in horror or decide you’re a very good person. At the very least it will make you think.

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