Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Dinner - Herman Koch

The Dinner
Herman Koch

In a upscale restaurant in Amsterdam the Lohman family reunites for a very unique dining experience. Their dinner won't be filled with just mindless chit chat and long descriptions of courses.  No matter how many times they look over the menu or talk about the latest poll results it won't change the fact that their children have done something terrible, and that these two sets of parents will do anything to protect them.

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started The Dinner. I didn't.  The book is split into different courses. With each one you learn more about the Lohman family, and the events that brought them all together. I should backtrack. The Lohman's are Serge, who is running for Prime Minister, his wife Babette, his frankly unstable brother Paul, and Paul's wife Claire.  I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to tell you that they're all awful people. At 320 pages The Dinner should be a breeze. The theme's are interesting - nature versus nurture, family and the crumbling of society - and they each play huge roles on almost every page. Only it's hard to be interesting in these concepts when every single person, from Paul to the wait staff are irritating. Not every narrator has to be likeable but at some point there should be a character you have some positive feelings for. Even a homeless woman who is described near the end of the novel barely gets more than pity from me. Really, these are not people you would ever want to be in line behind at Starbucks.

While I absolutely hated all of the main characters and a large chunk of the supporting ones I did enjoy a few things about The Dinner. For starters Paul is an incredibly unreliable narrator. Maybe that's why everyone comes off so bad? I'll let you decide that for yourself. The real trick here is that you don't discover exactly how skewed his perspective is until late in the novel when his backstory becomes important. The backstory was another thing I appreciated, even if it was a bit heavy handed.. Instead of large chunks of exposition you're treated to little scenes that really attempted to make these awful people feel real.

At the end of the day the story isn't enough to make up for all of the flaws working against Koch's novel. He set out to tackle some pretty big themes and just fell short of making anything stick.  Possibly the worst thing going against The Dinner is that I gave it three stars on goodreads. It's not bad enough to make me angry, or good enough for me to recommend. At the end of the day it's just taking up space on my Kindle.


Idea-ist said...

Great review!--Well timed too, GRs keeps recc'ing this for me and haven't been impressed enough to add it to my list...

"He set out to tackle some pretty big themes and just fell short of making anything stick."
Don't you hate when that happens? A good premise, a bad execution.

@Get Lost in Lit

PattisPages said...

I agree with almost everything you said, but somehow I found the book more compelling than you did. Also, the topic is timely, as I'm reading more and more about the possibility of parents being punished for the deeds of their children. It makes for good "dinner" conversation.