The Dinner By Herman Koch
Upon completion of The Dinner, I had to ask myself if my cultural differences interfered with my interpretation. To clarify, I felt the book was very well written, but the content made me shake my head at times. All in all, this book could make the most dysfunctional family look normal.
Let’s start from the beginning. The novel is set in Holland and follows Paul Lohman, the narrator of this novel. At first, you are given a picture of two brothers and their wives sitting down for dinner at a well-known upscale restaurant. It seems as ordinary as anything else in life for these brothers to enjoy a night out together. As you delve into the book, you see there are deeper issues with this family and the brother’s relationship. Paul doesn’t seem as if he likes his brother too much. We have all been there. Family is given to us; we don’t choose them. It is natural to assume that in some cases we would never have selected them as friends if not related. The author taps into this issue. However, that is family at the core. They are part of us, and because of that we put up with our family’s idiosyncrasies. The same is true as it is depicted within The Dinner.
In the beginning, we see Paul walking to the restaurant with his wife, Claire. As he narrates, he gives history that is important to the basis of the story, weaving the past with the present. His brother is the supposed shoe-in for prime minister of Holland and Paul sees everyone one fall at the feet of Serge Lohman. It is safe to say Paul doesn’t view his brother in the same light.
As the dinner progresses with Serge and his wife, Babette, we are introduced to both the couple’s children. It is further revealed through their conversations that the purpose of this dinner is to discuss a serious issue that involves their sons.
Beyond this point, too many spoilers would be exposed. Needless to say, this story numbs the very fiber of one’s moral being. We are left with the simple question, “What the hell?”
As previously mentioned, I wondered at first if my shock over the story was due to a cultural difference, since the writer is from Holland. It might be akin to when those not from the United States looks at us Americans and say, “Ah, that’s those Yankee’s for you…”
After careful consideration and reflecting on other reader’s reactions to this book, I don’t particularly think that culture was the deciding factor in the decline of the characters’ judgments. This book taps into the very nature of human beings and the harsh reality that some people are just not good. When concessions are made in order to cover up bad choices, it can lead to a series of regretful decisions, as shown in this book.
As far as the novel itself, I felt it was masterfully crafted and engaging. This story is fast paced and I couldn’t wait to find out how it had concluded. In the end, although it was upsetting, this story showed the reality of the sometimes very ugly human spirit.
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