Literatazzi – The Dinner by Herman Koch

herman-koch-the-dinner-646The Dinner by Herman Koch
Published: February 12, 2013

Summary:  It’s a lovely summer evening in Amsterdam when brothers Serge – a prominent political figure – and his brother Paul (the book’s narrator) gather with their wives at an upscale restaurant for dinner.  Everything seems quite quaint at first, but we soon learn after a few courses that there is a deeper reason these two couples have come together.  They each have a 15-year-old son, both of whom were involved in a violent, criminal act.  As the dinner winds down, the climax builds until both couples finally address the grave situation at hand.  The ultimate question is, how far will a parent go to protect their child?

My Thoughts:  I was very excited to read this book.  It is described by The Wall Street Journal as “a European Gone Girl“, which hooked me because I loved Gone Girl.  As I began reading, I wasn’t instantly invested.  There’s a lot of background story, which is fine, but I think there’s also a lot of unnecessary musings from the narrator.  OK, I thought.  If I keep reading this will get more and more interesting.  It doesn’t.  It seems to drag on and on, and the whole time you’re just growing to hate the characters.  Finally, almost halfway through book you learn a little bit about the crime the boys committed.  From there, more dragging and more and more mindless musings.  When the heinous act is finally put out for discussion between the couples the book is 3/4 finished.  Now we’re getting to the good stuff, I thought.  When book finally comes to a conclusion (IF you could even call that ending a conclusion) I was left puzzled by my lack of feeling about what I just read.

Why didn’t I feel more strongly one way or the other about this book, I thought. I mean, I liked the story, but I put it down in the middle somewhere for about a month because it bored me so much.  I like that the author was able to elicit emotions of hatred for the characters because it seems to me that was his obvious intention.  But, I didn’t like that there was nothing and no one that I could relate to.  Actually, the one person I found myself rooting for was the manager of the restaurant and he’s not even an essential character to the story!  The theme of this book is a deep one, but one that can easily be found in better books.  I thought the setting for the book – in a restaurant over a five-course meal – was interesting and unique, but I found it extremely hard to believe that anyone involved in this matter would choose to discuss the situation in public.  Especially, if one of those people were a prominent political figure.  I wanted more from the ending, but by then I was just ready to finish the damn book!

Conclusion:  I think this story had a lot of potential, but for me, it fell short on all accounts.  Maybe the problem is that I expected it to be something it’s not (Gone Girl).  Maybe I built it up too much in my head and that’s why I am disappointed.  But, even after I mentally separated the two, there’s no way I would pick the book up again, and no way I would recommend it to my friends.  In the end, the book was lacking something, and I just can’t put my finger on exactly what that “something” is.

**UPDATE** (8/9/13) – After having some time to digest my thoughts on this book, only one thing changes: I would recommend this book to other people.  However, my recommendation is purely selfish.  I would like to get a different perspective on this book.  I would want to know how other people felt after reading this book and what they thought of it.  So, in that respect, I would recommend the book to people.  Maybe with a warning…?