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The Dinner (2009)

by Herman Koch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,6663642,066 (3.41)326
Two couples meet for dinner at a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. Behind their polite conversation, 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.… (more)
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» See also 326 mentions

English (306)  Dutch (37)  Italian (5)  Spanish (5)  French (4)  German (2)  Norwegian (1)  Danish (1)  Swedish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (363)
Showing 1-5 of 306 (next | show all)
Prime Minister candidate Serge Lohman is a Dutch celebrity; a face everyone knows, and someone they can't please enough. His brother, Paul, is not nearly as successful, out of work for over a decade for reasons that aren’t clear until much later on (though no longer being a teacher doesn’t matter to him). Paul prides himself on his relationship with his son, Michel, and on being part of a loving family—a family about to be torn apart if he and his wife can’t stop it.

The high-end restaurant where this exchange takes place is a metaphor for the differences between the Lohman men. From the outset it’s clear that Paul is upset that Serge has secured last minute reservations at a place with a three month long waiting list (a place where Paul feels uncomfortable and out of his element). Things come to a simmer as Serge and Babette, his pretty wife, arrive and are greeted personally by the manager with whom Paul is quickly annoyed.

Prices, food, preparation, and presentation are ripped apart as polite conversation is exchanged, no one wanting to be the first to get to the heart of the matter.

The story unfolds slowly. Too slowly for my taste, really, but the foodie in me enjoyed the lingering courses (at first). The writing is top-notch. The Dinner is a Dutch translation, easy for this American gal to read along with despite the void in my Holland knowledge. The story, however, starts slow and then takes a bunch of illogical turns where Paul becomes the focus rather than the children, who are really what this book is supposed to be about; the thing two fifteen-year-old boys did. There’s a brief mention of blackmail, some weird segue about the narrator’s medical history (and I’m not sure what the author was getting at even with fifteen years medical experience under my belt). Maybe I’m just dense, but the talk of amniocentesis and terminating pregnancies for something psychiatric in nature makes me scratch my head.

The first half of the book brings to mind the American buzz term: “Affluenza.” These boys aren’t meant to be held accountable for their actions, at least not by all of the parents. There’s a sense of entitlement, that their lives are more valuable than others’. What the author did best is to showcase the depth of the characters’ depravity through past and current actions, introspection, and their opinions on the “issue.”

Does The Dinner pack the punch of Gone Girl? Not for me it didn’t, despite others drawing comparisons. The similarity for me ends at that the characters are pretty much all flaming a-holes. There is no one worth rooting for. It’s hard to identify with such an apathetic cast.

Still, The Dinner is like an impending car crash (one with a really, really long buildup, like if you were clairvoyant and saw a week into the future). You can’t help wanting to know what happened and what’s going to be done about it. I finished the book in three sittings. The prose kept me glued to the page, but the buildup falls flat on delivery. Three and a half stars. Great writing. So-so story with too many sidetracks, rife with implausibilities, and with a rushed ending that let me down.
( )
  bfrisch | Dec 9, 2022 |
This book starts out innocuously enough. Narrator Paul Lohman, and his wife Claire, are meeting his brother and sister-in-law, Serge and Babette, for dinner at an upscale restaurant. Serge is a candidate for Prime Minister of the Netherlands in the upcoming election. The couples exchange pleasantries over dinner, but the reader gradually becomes aware of an underlying tension. We begin to understand that all is not as it seems.

The book is structured around the courses of the meal: aperitif, appetizer, main course, dessert, and digestif. The plot unravels slowly. The narrator is unreliable. The darkness of tone increases until the reader realizes the polite discussion and detailed descriptions of each course are concealing unsavory and disturbing secrets. This book is filled with unlikeable characters. The true extent and horrific nature of the one (or more) of the characters is not revealed until near the end.

I have tried to describe this book without spoilers, but it is difficult. I recommend going into it without knowing much about it. I am impressed by the author’s ability to tell a well-crafted and engrossing story. Koch is commenting on the way labels and abdication of responsibility have led to an acceptance of cruelty and violence.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
A little boring. Compared to Gone Girl??? Not sure...... it is a bookclub book picked by Christy for November 2016. ( )
  PatLibrary123 | Aug 9, 2022 |
The description made me want to read this book, but while the story held my interest I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters or empathize with any of their decisions. There was not so much a "tragedy" that any one was faced with nor did it make me wonder what I myself would do if faced with such an impossible "tragedy" The characters were too unreal. The plot was too implausible and the narrative too often stated "I'm not going to tell you" As in the wife is hospitalized but "I'm not going to tell you why" She had multiple surgeries but "I'm not going to tell you" what they were. One character has a mental illness of some sort but "I'm not going to tell you" what it is (since no such condition exists) oh and this illness could have been diagnosed before birth with an amnio but "I'm not going to tell you" This was less a story of how far you would go to protect those you love and more a story of how far you would dig yourself into a deeper hole along with someone who was never in a million years going to be able to get away with what they've done.



I received this book from Blogging for Books for review ( )
  IreneCole | Jul 27, 2022 |
Ending is a bit dark and will make you think ( )
  Sunandsand | Apr 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 306 (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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Herman Kochprimary authorall editionscalculated
Garrett, SamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Testa, GiorgioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
NICE GUY EDDIE
C'mon, throw in a buck.
MR. PINK
Uh-huh, I don't tip.
NICE GUY EDDIE
Whaddaya mean, you don't tip?
MR PINK
I don't believe in it.

Quentin Tarantino
Reservoir Dogs
Dedication
First words
We were going out to dinner.
Quotations
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.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Two couples meet for dinner at a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. Behind their polite conversation, 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.

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Book description
Haiku summary
Soap opera. Cast:
The Jukes family. (What's the
Dutch for 'OTT'?)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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