Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Dinner

Readers who are drawn to fiction built around well-developed characters are likely to be intrigued by the premise of Herman Koch’s new novel, The Dinner.  Two couples meet for dinner in one of Amsterdam’s more pretentious restaurants to discuss what their fifteen-year-old sons have done to prompt a sophisticated police investigation into the event.  It is the first time they have spoken of what happened, or even acknowledged that all four of them are aware of their sons’ guilt.

Paul and Serge Lohman are brothers whose personal circumstances are very different.  Paul is an unemployed schoolteacher who lives with his wife Claire and their only son; Serge is expected to be the country’s next Prime Minister and lives with his wife Babette and their two sons, one of whom is adopted.  Paul, the book’s narrator, resents his brother and considers him a pretentious boor, more a hypocritical public performer than the “man of the people” he considers himself to be. 

The evening, when the two couples are finally seated at a table that offers them even a minimum of privacy, gets off to a relatively civil beginning.  But, over the course of what turns out to be a dinner of several hours, the conversation becomes more and more vicious as it begins to focus on the two boys and the life-changing choice they made together.

Dutch Author Herman Koch
The Dinner is presented entirely through the eyes of Paul Lohman, a man who feels morally superior to his superficial brother and sister-in-law in every way – but he feels that way about most people with whom he is forced to interact.  In addition to relating the actual dinner conversation, Paul is quick to guess at what each of his dinner companions is thinking but leaving unsaid.  And, in a series of flashbacks that go back several years or just a few days, details are revealed about the Silver families and their sons that begin to complicate everything the reader thinks he knows about them.

Many of the best psychological novels take place largely inside the heads of a single narrator, and The Dinner uses that approach.  As Koch reveals more and more about his chosen narrator, the reader will begin to appreciate just how finely crafted his novel is.  Bit by bit, the true nature of Paul, Claire, Serge, Babette, their sons, and what all of them are guilty of is revealed.  In the end, none are particularly admirable, but the biggest surprise is yet to come.

 (Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I am very intrigued by your review of this one. I really need to read it!

  2. What Kathleen said exactly. I am so intrigued by this review I want to read the book right away.

  3. I think you'll like it, ladies. The Dinner really sneaks up on you and, as a result, carries quite an emotional punch to the gut.