⇒SHELF-DISCIPLINE SEPTEMBER starts off for me with this dark dinner party of unlikely antiheroes.⇐
Published February 12, 2013, by Hogarth
Genre: Fiction / Adult Contemporary
#TheDinner #ShelfDiscipline #CleartheShelves #ReadWhatYouOwn
This month I’ll be finally committing to reading some of the books that I swear are more than colorful decorations on my bookshelves. I need to do this for my own sanity, and maybe one day I will be able to say that yes, I have in fact read most – if not all – of the books I own. What? A girl can dream!
When people get a chance to come close to death without having it touch them personally, they never miss the opportunity.
Every month or so, my friends and I get together for a fun little dinner party. We prepare our own food and share it around a table that is overflowing with laughter, life stories, and goodwill. And, oh yes, wine. There’s always wine!
After reading this book, I am so thankful for those cheerful parties and each one of my affable friends.
Only one time did something run amiss at one of my parties – an uninvited person crashed the party and uneasiness threatened to suck all of the air out of my normally welcoming home. It was uncomfortable for a time, but my wonderful friends managed to salvage the night and we laughed about it later.
Unfortunately for the characters in The Dinner, the only laughing being done is somewhat sinister and there is absolutely no salvaging of this strange summer night in Amsterdam.
Unhappiness can’t stand silence – especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone.
The story starts off harmlessly enough. Paul Lohman and his wife Claire meet his brother Serge and Serge’s wife, Babette, for dinner at a swanky restaurant. It’s not just a casual night out, there’s something they all need to talk about. A discussion about both of the couples’ sons needs to be had. But that’s not why Paul is annoyed. He seems to be bothered by… everything: The choice of restaurant, the waiter describing the food, even the guy who comes into the bathroom next to him. Claire is cautious too because Babette had been crying before they even reached the restaurant, and for other secret reasons as well. Serge, who is on the political trail to become the next prime minister is his usual confident and demanding self, with something else lying just under the surface. Uncertainty? Anger? Fear? Yes.
By the time dessert is served, the gloves have come off and their lavishly prepared dinner has become only a bothersome backdrop to a frightful new reality. One in which everything they each know is threatened by the actions of people that aren’t even present at the table.
Happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn’t have to be validated.
The Dinner was not at all what I was expecting. Reading a book like this – one that defies your assumptions and charges down the road less traveled – is what most of us look for from this form of entertainment, right? But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
This was definitely a dark path and the people I met upon it are not the sort you want to run into after the sun goes down.
I can say, thankfully, that I could not relate to any of these characters. They each had something dark and foreboding about them that made them monstrous in their own right – our unreliable narrator, Paul, the chiefest among villains. His unrelenting negativity and criticisms left a figurative bad taste in my mouth before their dinner had even begun. And Serge, his charismatic brother is the kind of smarmy politician that sours any event. Babette the weepy sister-in-law who constantly interrupts the meal with emotional outbursts may be the most normal out of them all because Claire, Paul’s wife, eventually reveals that her moral compass is dangerously off-kilter.
Koch tells a cheerless but magnetic story where something obviously ominous is hovering over the dinner table at all times. As we start to learn what that “something” is, it’s clear that the darkness isn’t only present at the table, but within these characters and their relatives as well. I was left searching for even one redeeming character among them all – maybe Valerie, the daughter/niece that is hardly mentioned? Maybe her autism gives her position that is apart from and above all the rest of them, so that’s why she has no place in the story (or at the table).
The Dinner is not humorous or endearing in any way. It was a very good read, but maybe not an enjoyable one, if that makes any sense. However, it did make me consider mental health issues much more seriously. By the end, I felt grateful for all the dinner parties I’ve been to that ended only with hugs, more laughter, and takeaway boxes.
Read an excerpt of The Dinner (courtesy Goodreads): HERE
About the Author
Herman Koch (born 1953) is an internationally bestselling author. The translation rights of The Dinner (2009) have been sold to over 55 countries, which is unprecedented for a modern Dutch novel. The Dinner has been adapted into several international stage plays and into a Dutch and Italian movie. The US movie adaptation of The Dinner released in 2017, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011) and Dear Mr M. (2014) are international bestsellers as well.
His latest novel The Ditch is enthusiastically received upon publication, and already declared a ‘vintage Koch’.
(Bio adapted from Goodreads)