The Dinner: A Novel by Herman Koch
Chosen as a participant in The Morning News' 2014 Tournament of Books. The Dinner is a little reminiscent of Defending Jacob, but just a tiny bit.
Two brothers, one of whom is a popular politician, possibly gunning to become prime minister of their native Netherlands, and their wives meet for dinner at a popular restaurant. The reason for their meeting becomes clear as the diners move through the courses.
I can't even begin to describe this book without giving everything away. I don't really care one way or the other about spoilers. When I discuss my feelings about a book, I don't concern myself with spoilers. They don't bother me when I run across them and I don't feel the need to worry about how much someone else knows or wants to know. I know that's an extremely unpopular opinion, but it's mine.
The Diner is the story of two families, dealing with their history and their future. Paul Lohman, our narrator, and his wife, Claire, start out a little annoyed with Paul's brother, Serge and his wife, Babette. Serge is kind of a legend in the Netherlands and is figured to run for prime minister. You never get the impression that Paul is that fond of his brother, but tolerates him and tries to avoid the unavoidable associations that come with people knowing you have a very famous relative. The book is divided into the courses of the dinner at the fancy restaurant chosen by Serge, who can get the two couples in short notice because of who he is. We know that Paul is dreading the meal, and like the courses, Koch dishes out the family history, the horrific crime committed by Paul and Claire's son, Michel and his cousin.
There is a very slow build here, culminating with a reveal that is the cherry on the top of the dessert course. Koch plots out his story, doling out just enough information to keep you turning pages, absorbing the information and processing it. As you learn more and more about the situation, you can't help but come to conclusions. With each new bit of data, you have to rethink your position. Until you turn the last page, you can constantly reevaluate the food for thought Koch delivers with each course to you, his reader. I've read reviews that found this book to be boring and filled with unnecessary description. I disagree with this opinion wholeheartedly. The slow pace is undeniable, considering that this is a 360 or so page book that takes place over the course of one meal. Yet, I don't know how else you could have digested (sorry, no pun intended) all of this information. There's a lot going on here. You've got sibling history, cousin history and the future of everyone involved at play.
I can understand how this made it into the fight for the rooster this year. I am looking forward to seeing how it fares in the tournament.