Excerpt from The Dinner by Herman Koch, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Dinner

By Herman Koch

The Dinner
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2013,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2013,
    304 pages.

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She was only pretending not to recognize the name Lohman, I saw, and pretending badly at that.

"Lohman, was it?" She raised an eyebrow and made no effort to hide her disappointment at the fact that it wasn't Serge Lohman standing there in real life, but two people whose faces meant nothing to her.

I could have helped out by saying that Serge Lohman was on his way, but I didn't.

The lectern-with-book was lit from above by a thin, coppercolored reading lamp: Art Deco, or some other style that happened to be just in or just out of fashion at the moment. The girl's hair, black as the T-shirt and pinafore, was tightly tied up at the back in a wispy ponytail, as though it too had been designed to fit in with the restaurant's house style. The girl who had taken our coats wore her hair in the same tight ponytail. Perhaps it had something to do with regulations, I thought to myself—hygiene regulations, like surgical masks in an operating room: after all, this restaurant prided itself on serving "all-organic" products—the meat came from actual animals, but only animals that had led "a good life."

Across the top of the tight black hairdos, I glanced at the dining room—or at least at the first two or three visible tables. To the left of the entrance was the "open kitchen." Something was being flambéed at that very moment, from the looks of it, accompanied by the obligatory clouds of blue smoke and dancing flames.

I didn't feel like doing this at all, I realized. Again, my aversion to the evening that lay ahead had become almost physical—a slight feeling of nausea, clammy hands, and the start of a headache somewhere behind my left eye—not quite enough, though, for me to actually become unwell or fall unconscious right there on the spot.

How would the black-pinafore girls react to a guest who collapsed before even getting past the lectern, I wondered. Would they try to haul me out of the way, drag me into the cloakroom—in any case somewhere where the other guests couldn't see me? They would probably prop me up on a stool behind the coatracks. Politely but firmly, they would ask whether they could call me a taxi. Off! Off with this man!—how wonderful it would be to let Serge stew, what a relief to be able to put a whole new twist on this evening.

I thought about what that would mean. We could go back to the café and order a plate of regular-person food. The daily special was ribs with fries, I'd seen on the blackboard above the bar—"Spareribs with fries €11.50"—probably less than a tenth of what we'd have to cough up here, each.

Another 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 (one more little detour past the night shop), and a perfect evening would be complete.

I would be entirely self-effacing, I promised myself: I would let Claire choose the film, even though that meant it was bound to be some costume drama. Pride & Prejudice, A Room with a View, or something Murder on the Orient Express–ish. Yes, that was a possibility, I thought. I could pass out and we could go home. But instead I said: "Serge Lohman, the table close to the garden."

The girl raised her eyes from the page.

"But you're not Mr. Lohman," she said.

I cursed it all, right there: the restaurant, the girls in their black pinafores, this evening that was ruined even before it began—but most of all I cursed Serge, for this dinner he'd been so keen to arrange, a dinner for which he couldn't summon up the common courtesy to arrive on time. The way he never arrived on time anywhere; people in union halls across the country had to wait for him to show up too. The oh-so-busy Serge Lohman was probably just running late—the meeting in the last union hall had run over, and now he was caught in traffic somewhere. He didn't drive himself—no; driving would be a waste of time for someone of Serge's status. He had a chauffeur to do that for him, so he could spend his precious time judiciously, reading important documents.

Excerpted from The Dinner by Herman Koch. Copyright © 2013 by Herman Koch. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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