In June when I dropped off Nick in Aspen, I had some free time to myself one day and decided to check out the local bookstore (natch). I figured Nick would be in some need of entertainment, what without TV and weak internet all summer so I bought <ahem> him some books. One of which was The Dinner by Herman Koch. From Goodreads:
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse—the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
So when I drove back out to Aspen a couple of weeks ago at the end of the festival to pick up Nick I ended up starting this one and just finished last night. Although it’s just about 300 pages, The Dinner felt shorter than that, and I’m sure if life wasn’t so busy at the moment I could have devoured this (har har) in just a couple of days instead of 10. I’m seeing The Dinner compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and while I agree they are in the same family (har har, okay that’s it!) with it’s dark, sardonic vibe and twisty secret-revealing journey, Gone Girl felt much faster paced and sinister to me.
That’s not to say I didn’t really enjoy The Dinner. It starts out normal enough—our narrator Paul doesn’t like his famous brother, whom he’s meeting for dinner this night with their wives. But as the reasons for the dislike unfold, told mostly as memories/flashbacks non-chronologically, the story just gets darker and more twisted with every “course.” I loved the setting of a snooty pretentious restaurant and that it takes place over one evening. Paul would omit certain details of events throughout the book, like making a point to let the reader know he was not mentioning the name of the restaurant on purpose and why, and that simple move by the author also made my imagination run wild. Is this dinner actually all taking place way, way far back in the past? Is Paul telling us this from prison? What for? and so on.
This is one book that I could totally picture as an indie film. The characters mostly seem realistic, and their actions make you think about choices, family, parenting, love for your children and what you would do to for them, from preserving their innocence to defending them to keeping them safe from harm. I wish I could have read this as part of a group! It would have been excellent for a group discussion.
Read from August 18 to 27, 2013.