The Dinner

The Dinner

by Herman Koch

Overview: An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives -- all over the course of one meal.

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Judy Stanton (03/21/17): I had heard about this book and thought it was the story of two normal couples who were friends who were discussing a mutual issue over dinner, and things went downhill. For me, the fact that the men are brothers brings in a different dynamic; this is not a friendly dinner, it's a family social function, and in this case, even seen as an obligation. Adding to the dynamics is the fact that one brother is the future prime minister while the other is an unemployed, mentally unstable person. Add their biological and adopted children to the mix, and you get what I saw as quite a bizarre story!! It was an easy read and kept me engaged, with a few twists and turns, but also pretty disturbing.
Rating: ***

Anne Ferber (03/22/15): Wow! As I'm reading, I can't believe what I'm reading. Call it a male Gone Girl. First of all it takes place in Holland, but that is of little significance as the goings on could be American, or any society that feels familiar.

The writing as well as the story seem to be narrated by a psychopath--that is, told without emotion, only expediency. There are two families, headed by brothers. The older brother is an important member of parliament and recognized wherever he goes. The younger brother (the narrator) is an out of work teacher, suspended due to inappropriate and uncontrolled behavior. He has been diagnosed and put on medication.

Each brother has a 15 year old son, (cousins and friends) who commit unspeakable acts and the novel describes how the parents are dealing with their sons' behavior over a strange and bizarre dinner, fraught with accusations and outbursts. The younger brother, with strong misanthropic tendencies describes the dinner, and interactions of the in-laws with cynicism and wit, that make it difficult to comprehend, and at the same time, absurdly comical.

There is also an underlying philosophical inquiry as to what constitutes a happy family. Well, good luck with that!

This is a real page turner, a quick and unbelievable read.
Rating: ****

Ricki Brodie (06/20/14): The book takes place over 5- courses at dinner at a very expensive restaurant that delivers tiny portions centering around two brothers, their wives and their absent sons. As the meal progresses, we are served up plates full of sadness, hate, bigotry, rage and a family’s protectiveness of its own. The very unreliable narrator hates his brother who is seeking the job of prime minister of the Netherlands. The narrator wants nothing to do with discussing a very public event the sons’ have been involved with. Each family member has his/her ideas as to how to deal with an event that will change everyone’s lives. There are moral and ethical issues and how far you will go to ensure your child is safe. If you are looking for likable characters, this book is not for you. There is no remorse or regard for others. The author gets you thinking about what you would do in a similar situation and questions of morality.
Rating: ***

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