February 18

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner.  Well, courtesy of this book, I have just been put off mine.

Judging by all the reviews, I had a hit in my hands.  A best seller, a not-to-be missed read so I could barely wait to get right into it.   What could be better? Intrigue and food!  hoorah.

Fool!

Having just read the last line of the book, I am left suffering from food poisoning of the literary variety.   I want to retch.  Who the hell are these people?

The story starts off innocently enough. A dinner with two brothers and their wives.  Between them they have  one daughter and three teenage sons – one son is adopted –  &  they meet because they need to talk about the off-spring.  There is urgency in the meeting so, of course, you begin to imagine why?  How bad could it be?  What have the little buggers done? You take yourself to some strange places trying to figure it out but when the blow comes,  was I prepared?

No sir-ee.

The intrigue simmers slowly in the early book.  There is that old sibling rivalry chestnut as you are introduced to Serge Lohman, the successful politician brother and Paul, the sibling who lives in Serge’s shadow.    Paul is the narrator and it’s his brain you live in for all  309 pages.   And, for the love of pickled herring, you learn it is a dark violent place in there.

Over a three course meal at a fancy restaurant, Paul tells a series of tales covering some 12 years in between detailing the actual account of the dinner itself, the surrounding people, and the food – what little appears on the plates that is.  The tales start simply enough. Family squabbles, family dramas and the like.

From main course, things start to turn sinister.  We find out about the male kids and their deeds.  And shortly after we learn the fruit doesn’t fall far from the trees.  It is at this point, I recommend you drop the croissant you are eating.  You probably won’t be hungry anymore….
Many reviews have described it as darkly funny, humorous.  What?  What page please?  I wonder if that is a male / female thing so am testing the theory and have asked my husband to read it.  If he laughs out loud, I may have to leave him.

So here is the question?  How did I keep reading it?  How on earth did I actually finish it?  Because of the suspense and this book has it in spades.  Because as you read, you want to find hope, see some evidence  of human kindness.   Surely they couldn’t.  Surely they didn’t.   It keeps you going, like sucking on a single, long piece of spaghetti. you can’t stop mid slurp……surely they can’t be this bad you think, page after page.  So, I just kept on sucking.

It is apparently a story of fierce love and I see that.   I might argue sick love but that will be up to you to decide.  Love at what cost?  You will be left with a series of moral dilemmas and questions. Would you, Wouldn’t you, COULD you?  Is it a case of ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’  when your children are at the core of it all?? I want to put it out there right now, if I was Claire, Paul’s wife, no I could not!
And it is for these reasons, I think this would be an absolute corker for a book club.  You may well feel like you have spent time in an asylum at the end, but put it on your list lickety split  because if this doesn’t get the fire stoked & juices going, nothing will folks.

Is The Dinner worth reading?  Yes, but probably best on an empty stomach.

And that’s my 2 cents.