Published by Crown/Archetype on February 12th 2013
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
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. Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
I picked this book up because it was one of the slimmer volumes that was in the Tournament of Books for 2014. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except it was originally in Dutch.
I really liked it. I thought it was delightful how the book was broken down into sections such as Apertif, Main Course, etc. Since I’m a foodie going through the motions of an expensive meal is always thrilling in a book.
But what was really interesting about this novel was how skillfully Koch unravelled his story and the characters behind them. Told in the first person by Paul Lohman, the reader not only gets a play by play of every minute detail of the dinner, we are treated to the innermost workings, desires, and fantasies of someone who seems (over the course of a single meal) to become increasingly unhinged.
I’m reading Lolita right now, so unreliable narrators are on my mind. I think Paul Lohman can definitely be categorized as an unreliable narrator. This book is suspenseful but it’s very subtle about the suspense. The action is fairly limited so it could almost be described as a suspenseful character study – two genres that would seem to be at odds with one another.
I’ve seen criticisms of this book being too pretentious, I didn’t get that feeling at all. True, none of the characters were overly warm or relatable, which may have hindered the impact that the author was going for – but despite that I was still interested in the characters and wanted to find out what was going to happen to them, and more importantly, who they really were.
The Dinner was, in a word, delicious.
In my opinion this book was robbed during the Tournament of Books, it probably shouldn’t have won, but I don’t think it should have been eliminated in the first round!
Have you read The Dinner, Reader? Has anyone read it in the original Dutch? Do you have an unreliable narrator that you love to hate? Or just feel confused about?