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The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner (edition 2013)

by Herman Koch

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,0932571,834 (3.42)241
Title:The Dinner
Authors:Herman Koch
Info:Hogarth (2013), Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Dutch, Translation, Families

Work details

The Dinner by Herman Koch

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» See also 241 mentions

English (210)  Dutch (34)  Spanish (5)  Italian (2)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (257)
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
I received this book to read and review through a postal book club on Goodreads.

This book left me a bit confused as to the author's intentions. During the first 50 pages I was frustrated and irritated with the shallowness and vapid attitudes of the characters. Then during the course of the next 100 pages, they became even more unlikable. But it was at this point I started to wonder ~ is that the author's intention? Are my thoughts and feelings about these characters following along the exact path that the author wanted the readers to take?

At the beginning you realize you have two couples who are obviously well off, but whose depth of moral character obviously ends at the shallow end of the pool. Then you start to realize that there is something not quite right with the protagonist and eventually seeing that his issues and those of his family are much larger than you could have ever imagined. But exactly what those issues are...the author never really allows you to know. We see the effects of it, but it is left in the shadows ~ some kind of condition/diagnosis/abnormality ~ but we never know what that is exactly. I found this frustrating as it is obviously central to the character's past, present, and future but as a reader we were left with only half answers about what exactly was going on with this character's psyche.

So back to my original question ~ was it the author's intention to create a story full of characters that were almost completely unlikable? (One or more of which who may even be sociopaths? Since he left the diagnosing entirely up to the reader...) For a while, I really thought this was it ~ the author wanted to take us down this road of dislike for these characters on purpose. But upon finishing the book, I'm not as sure anymore.

The edition I had to read contained an, "Extra Libris," section in the back, part of which was an interview with Herman Koch by Debra Ginsberg. From this interview I got the feeling that he didn't intend for these people to be as disliked as...well, as much as I disliked them. I just couldn't find much at all as far redeeming qualities in them. But at the same time ~ I can't say that the story itself was bad. I remained consistently at odds with the characters and their self-centered view of the world, but eventually the story did take over. The ending doesn't wrap up everything nice and neat so there wasn't that kind of satisfaction at the end. Essentially I was left with the question ~ does dislike of the characters (ALL of the characters) necessarily mean dislike of the book itself? In the end, I don't think it does. But it certainly doesn't help either. So while I would never tell someone to *not* read this book, it certainly has not been one of my favorites. So I give it two stars. ( )
  a_quiet_life | Jul 13, 2016 |
Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!

This is a hard book for me to review, mainly because although it was clever and unique, it was also disappointing and hard to get through. The entire story consists of a single dinner between Paul, our narrator, his wife, Claire, and his brother and sister-in-law, Serge and Babette. The dinner appears to be an innocent gathering at the outset, but as flashbacks and side-tracks into the lives and character of the brothers and their families are slowly revealed, we learn that there is a bigger, more important issue at hand with this dinner concerning a problem with their sons.

Paul is an interesting narrator: the first few chapters of the story portrayed a decently likable guy, and I felt like I was on his side, but as the story progressed, he became unreliable and a bit of a dodgy character. His character was certainly complex, but I can't say I found anything dynamic about him. I got the sense that he had no true moral compass, despite pretending like he did. In fact, I don't think anyone in this book truly had a moral compass. The actual act that their sons did (intentional vagueness so I don't give anything away) that prompted this entire dinner is pretty shocking, but it was never mentioned as being wrong, only in terms of how to cover it up. This bothered me, largely because it just didn't feel real. Who are these people and why are they so cold? There was almost no empathy or compassion to be found anywhere, which I understand is how some people are, but the falseness and despicable nature of these people was just overwhelming. As I've mentioned before, I'm completely fine with hating every character in a book as long as the book can hold up to it, but I'm not sure if The Dinner was able to do that. To be completely honest, I preferred the small inserts of the actual dinner and the interactions with the waiter, which felt like comic relief - albeit comic relief smothered in pretentiousness.

On a more positive note, Koch delves into some deep topics throughout The Dinner, such as mental illness and the notion of what truly constitutes a happy family, and in this area he brings up some compelling points to ponder. A major theme that seemed to consistently pop up was that appearances are deceiving, which can be interpreted in so many ways. There is also an overarching atmosphere of darkness and evil that permeates each page, which is one area in which Koch truly excelled - the man knows how to develop atmosphere.

By the time I put this book down, I felt slightly nauseous from what I digested (intended metaphor), and I'm not sure it is something I wouldn't particularly recommend based on how much I enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) it . I would recommend for its psychological interests and unique storytelling idea, but that's likely it. For this reason, I am giving The Dinner two-and-a-half stars. ( )
  ForeverLostinLit | Jun 28, 2016 |
3.75 stars

Paul and Serge are brothers. Paul obviously does not much like Serge, who is running to become prime minister of the Netherlands. The polls have Serge as the likely winner. When they and their wives meet at a posh restaurant one evening to discuss something, their lives will never be the same as secrets come to the fore.

I had no expectations about this book, as I hadn't heard of it until we were to read it for my f2f book club. It took a bit to get going (and the food descriptions really didn't do anything for me), but about half-way through, once we found out why they had all met for dinner, it got interesting! It certainly kept me wanting to read. I have to admit to not liking the ending (or maybe just not agreeing that that's how it should have ended?), but that second half really held my interest and brought up my rating (except for the end). ( )
  LibraryCin | Jun 28, 2016 |
Happy families? I think not. This is a novel of secrets and lies, of violence and resentment, of rage and obsession. Paul is the essence of an unreliable narrator and while I disliked all the characters, it was like watching a train wreck - you know you shouldn't look, but you can't tear your eyes away! I think I need to read something in the escapist genre now, so I don't have to think too hard! ( )
  mmacd3814 | May 30, 2016 |
In Amsterdam, two brothers and their wives meet for a dinner loaded with undercurrents. It's difficult to say which brother is more self-absorbed and pompous - Serge, the politician or Paul, the former high school history teacher forced into an involuntary "sabbatical" due to mental health issues. Their sons have been involved in a crime of unimaginable cruelty, which they are attempting to justify and absolve. The early background leads quickly to the understanding that Paul's son, Michael, has learned at a very young age that his father will protect him from taking responsibility for any wrongdoing. There is a pervasive sense in this book that once the superficial veneer of "a happy family" collapses, nothing is left but the harsh knowledge of their dysfunction as parents and worthwhile people. For those of us who believe that there are consequences for our actions and for those of our children, this is a difficult book to read. ( )
  pdebolt | Apr 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
If you want to enjoy Herman Koch’s new novel, don’t read a single thing about it. To do so seriously reduces its power. Don’t read the blurbs on its dust jacket — an impressive list of authors that includes Gillian Flynn and S.J. Watson — nor the synopsis on the inside flap. Don’t even read this review. Actually, forget that — come back! It’s spoiler-free, I promise. . . . The Dinner is the kind of book I wish could be translated into English more often.
added by Nickelini | editNational Post, JC Sutcliffe (Feb 15, 2013)
The Dinner, a suspense novel by Herman Koch, has sold over a million copies since it was published in Europe in 2009, and it's not difficult to understand the appeal. It's fast-paced and riveting. Written in cool, detached prose (deftly translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett), The Dinner is as theatrical and dramatic as a well-crafted play. It's also nasty. It starts off as social satire but shifts gears, and you find yourself in the middle of a horror story. . . . Mr. Koch delivers his revelations cleverly, by the spoonful. Issues of morality, responsibility and punishment are raised along the way, and a Pinteresque menace lurks under the surface. When savagery takes over, the reader is shocked. But some of Mr. Koch's conclusions are a bit too pat. In the end, the book sits on the digestion less like an over-indulgent "fine dining" experience than Chinese food, which, as we all know, leaves you feeling hungry a couple of hours later.
“The Dinner,” Herman Koch’s internationally popular novel, is an extended stunt. Mr. Koch confines his story to one fraught restaurant meal, where malice, cruelty, craziness and a deeply European malaise are very much on the menu.
"The Dinner” has been wishfully compared to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” (and enthusiastically endorsed by Ms. Flynn) for its blackhearted deviltry. But her book, with its dueling narrators, had two vicious but sympathetic voices. Her sneaky spouses were delectable in their evil genius. The Lohmans are indigestible.
added by sneuper | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Feb 6, 2013)
“The Dinner,” Herman Koch’s internationally popular novel, is an extended stunt. Mr. Koch confines his story to one fraught restaurant meal, where malice, cruelty, craziness and a deeply European malaise are very much on the menu. The four diners can leave the table occasionally, headed to the restrooms or the garden or the handy room of flashback memories. But mostly they sit and seethe at one another as a miserable night unfolds.
This book has been widely described as both thriller and chiller, but it really is neither.
But it’s the morality of the story that’s really sickening.
added by sneuper | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Feb 6, 2013)
Welsh is intrigued by a novel reminiscent of The Slap and Carnage
added by Nickelini | editthe Guardian, Louise Welsh (Aug 17, 2012)

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Herman Kochprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garrett, SamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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C'mon, throw in a buck.
Uh-huh, I don't tip.
Whaddaya mean, you don't tip?
I don't believe in it.

Quentin Tarantino
Reservoir Dogs
First words
We were going out to dinner.
If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this: happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn't have to be validated.
A fixed appointment for the immediate future is the gates of hell; the actual evening is hell itself.
The stupid woman is the one who thinks she doesn't need any help.
It's like a pistol in a stage play; when someone waves a pistol during the first act, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will be shot with it before the curtain falls. That's the law of drama. The law that says no pistol must appear if no one's going to fire it.
Sometimes things come out of your mouth that you regret later on. Or no, not regret. You say something so razor-sharp that the person you say it to carries it around with them for the rest of their life.
Last words
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Book description
Haiku summary
Soap opera. Cast:
The Jukes family. (What's the
Dutch for 'OTT'?)

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Meeting at an Amsterdam restaurant for dinner, two couples move from small talk to the wrenching shared challenge of their teenage sons' act of violence that has triggered a police investigation and revealed the extent to which each family will go to protect those they love.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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