The Dinner by Herman Koch

Published: 2009 Genre: General fiction. 1. First lines 2. Cover: Audible 3. Table setting [Public Domain] via Public Domain Pictures

Out to dinner are Paul Lohman, his wife Claire, Paul’s brother Serge, and his wife Babette. They have met to discuss something about their teenage sons. There are conflicting opinions among the parents about what should be done about it. Paul narrates the story, and reveals serious problems he’s had in his past that may have a bearing on what has happened with his son.

“The dilemma I was faced with was one every parent faces sooner or later: you want to defend your child, of course …”

Glanceabook: One of the strengths of this story is the way the writer develops the main character, who is the narrator. As the story progresses, he recounts incidents in his life, showing the reader what kind of man he is, and what has led to a crisis in his family.

  • NPR: Half the pleasure of reading The Dinner is feeling the author’s steady hand on the story as secrets are revealed. The Dinner is an alarming drama. What these boys have done is grotesque, but not alien. Their crime could take place in Nebraska as easily as the Netherlands. But it’s their parents’ behavior that’s even more chilling. By dessert, characters that I sympathized with during the appetizer course begin doing things, saying things, that are not only — and forgive the pun — unpalatable to me, but unconscionable, and I had to wrestle with what I would have done in their place. The best part about The Dinner was this tension taking place above the plates. As the meal wore on, I realized I couldn’t get up from the table.
  • Kirkus: “The novel can be ineffectually on the nose when it comes to discussions of white guilt and class, the brothers’ wives are thin characters, and scenes meant to underscore Paul’s madness have an unrealistic vibe that show Koch isn’t averse to a gratuitous, melodramatic shock or two. Even so, Koch’s slow revelation of the central crisis is expertly paced, and he’s opened up a serious question of what parents owe their children, and how much of their character is passed on to them. At its best, a chilling vision of the ugliness of keeping up appearances.”

Quotes:


“The smile remained suspended on her face, but it was as though it had been disconnected from the emotion behind it – if there ever had been any emotion behind it.”

“For women, earrings are sort of what shaving is for men: the bigger the earrings, the more significant, the more festive, the evening.”

“This was happening to me more often lately: suddenly, pieces of the puzzle were gone—bites out of time, empty moments during which my thoughts must have been elsewhere.”

Author: Herman Koch


Adaptation:


  • The Dinner is an 2017 American film directed and written by Oren Moverman, starring Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall.
  • Het Diner is the 2013 original Dutch version by Menno Meyjes
  • I nostri ragazzi is the 2014 Italian film by Ivano De Matteo.

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