Saturday, April 23, 2011


TITLE: THE DINNER by Herman Koch
Pages: 300
Date: 19/04/2011
Grade: 5-
Details: Dutch novel

The blurb:

A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened... 

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified - by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My thoughts:

This is a very clever book. It is the stories of two couples, meeting for dinner in an exclusive restaurant. The couples, two brothers and their wives, are there to discuss something their sons have done and how to deal with it. It all starts of fairly easy going and relaxed. Paul, who tells the story, has some issues where his brother, a politician who may well end up as the next prime minister of Holland, is concerned, but nothing beyond the normal sort of sibling irritations. Or so it seems.

Soon it becomes clear that Paul may not be the reasonable man he appears to be, and his brother Serge not the fool Paul describes him as. The big question of the evening is how the parents are going to deal with the horrendous thing their two teenage sons have done. How far are they prepared to go to protect their sons, what price are they willing to pay to achieve what is best for the boys? And what will happen if the two sets of parents have different ideas as to what might be best?

This book is clever because it starts off as a straight forward novel. But, as the reader gets deeper into the story it becomes clear that this is anything but an innocent story. Before long it is no longer a mainstream piece of fiction we’re dealing with, somehow the story has turned itself into a thriller. A thriller that continues to get darker and darker as the story progresses. A thriller that doesn’t reveal the depth of its darkness until the very last word on the very last page.

This is a story that will leave the reader wondering how far he or she might be willing to go to protect a child of theirs. Would you always pick the side of your child or are there things that are just too bad? It also makes you wonder how well you actually know people. How much you can trust those closest to you?

There are one or two things in this book that didn’t make complete sense. I won’t reveal what they were since that would give away parts of the story that shouldn’t be revealed until a reader gets to them. Those were minor issues though and only resulted in me putting a minus sign behind the otherwise well deserved 5.

I’d love to read more by this author sooner rather than later, but since I don’t think his work has been translated into English and I won’t be in Holland anytime soon, I’m afraid that is one pleasure I will have to postpone.

Edit after reading Summer House With Swimming Pool: be careful what you wish for.

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