The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner is a quick read with twists and turns you don’t see coming.

Mostly set in an expensive restaurant in Holland, sections of the book and storytelling are broken up by courses of a meal; starting with appetizer and moving along with dinner, dessert and digestive for the ending. Four people meet for a dinner in an upscale, hard-to-get-a-reservation kinda place. In the beginning I found Paul and Claire Lohman likeable and was quite amused by Paul’s observations regarding his brother and sister-in-law. The brother is Serge Lohman; a political figure running to be the next Prime Minister of Holland. Serge’s wife, Babette, is a compliant and shallow wife and dinner partner.

Paul Lohman is the narrator and early on you understand how irritated he is by his brother. What Paul remembers is the brother he grew up with who wolfed his food, was dismissed from the dinner table for farting and belching – not the adult public image people see now. To the public, to those who didn’t grow up with Serge, he is a the charismatic polished candidate for prime minister. He’s the guy who poses for family photos with his two children and is adopted African son; the guy who gets right in at a restaurant with a 3 month reservation wait time and the man who wants to champion the rights of the working people of Holland.

Midway through the book as you glean a sharper picture of the personalities as told through flashbacks. At the center of the developing drama are three male teenaged children of both couples. Something criminal, a horribly despicable episode is captured on video on one son’s cell phone. The facts aren’t revealed at first and you dance between the dinner conversation and the flashbacks.

It’s unsettling. I found this book to be disturbing with an unresolved ending. There were some events that needed further explanation. That’s just my opinion.
Personally there was only one character I liked by the end. Don’t want to give spoilers so I won’t go into my thoughts on some of the events and lack of explanation or resolution.

Food was mentioned quite a bit. Here are some passages:

Clearly in the beginning Paul and Claire didn’t want to go to the restaurant and meet Serge:
“The alternative would be to head straight for home, with at the very most a little detour past the video shop for a DVD, which we could then watch on the TV in the bedroom, lying on our roomy double bed: a glass of wine, some crackers, a few types of cheese to go with and a perfect evening would be complete.
I would let Claire choose the film, even though it meant it was bound to be some costume drama. Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View or Murder on the Orient Express.”

(This was the early part of the book where I still liked the characters.)

“These are Greek olives from Peloponnese, lightly doused in first-pressing, extra virgin olive oil from Sardinia, and polished off with rosemary from…….”

“The crayfish are dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions and these chantrelles are from Vosges”

“The lamb’s-neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil and is served with arugula,’ said the manager, who had by now arrived at Claire’s plate and was pointing with his pinky at two minuscule pieces of meat. “The sun-dried tomatoes come from Bulgaria” Warm goat’s cheese with pine nuts and walnut shavings.

My inclination is to prepare a wine and cheese tray for this book. The reasoning is, I still liked the people at the beginning of the book when this was mentioned…but I think for today, I will just post the review.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions, nice and no-so-nice are my own 🙂

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7 thoughts on “The Dinner by Herman Koch

    • He is a good novelist and you can imagine the couples as they talk, feel tension. They weren’t likable but they were very real. I wonder what we would do in a similar situation.

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  1. I listened to this one on audio, and also the author’s next book which is even more unsettling, Summer House with Swimming Pool. It’s hard to review either one without spoilers. It does seem that by the end of The Dinner, readers will have definitely lost their appetites, despite all the food descriptions!

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  2. Pingback: Dear Mr M just lost momentum, for me. | Novel Meals

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