Published by Hogarth on February 12, 2013
Genres: General Fiction
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.
The Dinner by Herman Koch takes place over the course of one meal between two brothers and their wives. The novel begins with an aperitif, being an introduction to the couples and casual small talk. When we reach the succulent main course we learn the true reason for the evening out; to talk about their children and the heinous crime their sons have committed.
The Dinner poses the question to what lengths would you go for your children? Having no children of my own I cannot answer that, but I do have a younger brother I would move Heaven and Earth for. I imagine it is something like that.
The couples in question are two brothers and their wives. The eldest brother Serge is running for office and supposedly a shoe-in, thus having a very big head and will do anything for the vote. Paul (who is our narrator) on the outside seems normal but as the story evolves the reader sees how fucked up he truly is. Their wives, are like a bunny-eared tv set going in and out of focus with their drama adding to the soap opera of sorts.
The main course which I had avidly been waiting for like a good steak explains why these two brothers who loath each other meet? Their teenage sons, Serge’s two boys, one adopted one biological and Paul’s only child have set a homeless woman on fire and unintentionally killed her. There is a blurry security video but clear enough for their parent’s to recognize. Should they do the right thing and turn them in potentially ruining the children’s future and that of Serge’s campaign? Or walk away from the incident as if nothing had affected them? A question of morals.
The swanky restaurant in Amsterdam that is our setting serves very small portions but I found Herman Koch’s novel to be a sumptuous tasting and would have devoured a second helping.