Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Dinner

The Dinner
Herman Koch
3.5 / 5

Published 2009

First Sentence
"We were going out to dinner."
Publisher's Description:
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 shows 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.

Dear Reader,

This was one of those books I went into entirely blind: I had no clue what it was about, really, or where it took place or what its general plot idea was.  I knew (duh) that it focused around some people meeting for dinner, and that was about it.  So I was surprised to see that it was actually about two Dutch couples, the males brothers, and not very good brothers to each other, at that.  At least, you can tell that the storyteller isn't a big fan of his older brother, that's for darn sure.  Serge is a politician through and through, and his little brother hates everything about it: how it's changed Serge; how pretentious he is now about wine, food, and his appearance; how everything he does feels like it is for the vote and for no other reason. 

The entire book really focuses on this awful incident that the couples' teenage boys perpetrated.  It examines the story from each parent's angle, as they decide how to proceed past the event in the best possible way.  There are several flashback sections where you see The Incident occur and then see how one father deals with it in relation to his own troubled past and his tense relationship with his older brother.  It is fascinating to watch everything become revealed piece by piece through the eyes of this protagonist.  And it certainly makes the reader wonder what sort of person they'd be if they were in the same situation.  How do you deal with family messes?  It's easy to point at other families' flaws, but so much more difficult to look inward at your own.

This book reminded me quite a bit of that odd movie Sexy Evil Genius, which my boyfriend and I watched on Netflix a few months back.  (Which apparently went straight to video, not too surprisingly.)  It, too, took place at a restaurant table, and dealt only with a very small group of people.  The viewer watched while the backstory unfolded, told in bits and pieces over the course of a couple of hours.  Very similar plot devices!  But such extremely different stories.   I think it's a neat setting - examining such a small time and space can still yield such an intricate story.

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