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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
History, Science & Current Affairs
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives - all over the course of one meal.
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.
We were going out to dinner. I won't say which restaurant, because next time it might be full of people who've come to see whether we're there. Serge made the reservation. He's always the one who arranges it, the reservation. This particular restaurant is one where you have to call three months in advanceor six, or eight, don't ask me. Personally, I'd never want to know three months in advance where I'm going to eat on any given evening, but apparently some people don't mind. A few centuries from now, when historians want to know what kind of crazies people were at the start of the twenty-first century, all they'll have to do is look at the computer files of the so-called "top" restaurants. That information is kept on fileI happen to know that. If Mr. L. was prepared to wait three months for a window seat last time, then this time he'll wait for five months for a table beside the men's roomthat's what restaurants call "customer relations management."
Serge never reserves a table three months in advance. Serge makes the reservation on the day itselfhe says he thinks of it as a sport. You have restaurants that reserve a table for people like Serge Lohman, and this restaurant happens to be one of them. One of many, I should say. It makes you wonder whether there isn't one restaurant in the whole country where they don't go faint right away when they hear the name Serge Lohman on the phone. He doesn't make the call himself, of course; he lets his secretary or one of his assistants do that. "Don't worry about it," he told me when I talked to him a few days ago. "They know me there; I can get us a table." All I'd asked was whether it wasn't a good idea to call, in case they were full, and where we would go if they were. At the other end of the line, I thought I heard something like pity in his voice. I could almost see him shake his head. It was a sport.
There was one thing I didn't feel like that evening. I didn't feel like being there when the owner or on-duty manager greeted Serge Lohman as though he were an old friend. Like seeing how the waitress would lead him to the nicest table on the side facing the garden, or how Serge would act as though he had it all coming to himthat deep down he was still an ordinary guy, and that was why he felt entirely comfortable among other ordinary people.
Which was precisely why I'd told him we would meet in the restaurant itself and not, as he'd suggested, at the café around the corner. It was a café where a lot of ordinary people went. How Serge Lohman would walk in there like a regular guy, with a grin that said that all those ordinary people should above all go on talking and act as though he wasn't thereI didn't feel like that, either.
The restaurant is only a few blocks from our house, so we walked. That also brought us past the café where I hadn't wanted to meet Serge. I had my arm around my wife's waist; her hand was tucked somewhere inside my coat. The sign outside the café was lit with the warm red-and-white colors of the brand of beer they had on tap. "We're too early," I said to my wife.
"I mean, if we go now, we'll be right on time."
"My wife." I should stop calling her that. Her name is Claire. Her parents named her Marie Claire, but in time Claire didn't feel like sharing her name with a magazine. Some times I call her Marie, just to tease her. But I rarely refer to her as "my wife"on official occasions sometimes, or in sentences like "My wife can't come to the phone right now," or "My wife is very sure she asked for a room with a sea view."
On evenings like this, Claire and I make the most of the moments when it's still just the two of us. Then it's as though everything is still up for grabs, as though the dinner date were only a misunderstanding, as though it's just the two of us out on the town. If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this: happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn't have to be validated. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is the opening sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. All I could hope to add to that is that unhappy familiesand within those families, in particular the unhappy husband and wifecan never get by on their own. The more validators, the merrier. Unhappiness loves company. Unhappiness can't stand silenceespecially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone.
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.
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Guide written by Amy Clements
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Hogarth Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch, promises to be an interesting sort of evening. We are invited to pull up a chair beside Paul whom his fifteen-year-old son, Michel, affectionately refers to as "Sweet Old Papa" and join him for dinner. He needs our support, you see, for this is a meal he's dreading.
Paul is an ordinary manhe's one of us. All he wants is a simple quiet meal, alone with his beloved wife, Claire. But they are having dinner with Serge, Paul's arrogant brother and Babette, Serge's wife. It's bad enough that his brother picked the restaurantan upscale overdone place with an elitist atmosphere. As a currently unemployed school teacher, Paul notices the excessive cost of each item on the menu. To make things worse, Serge and Babette arrive predictably late. Paul and Claire watch as the restaurant staff fuss over Serge since he is the leading candidate for Prime Minister of Holland.
But the biggest problem is the reason for this evening's engagement. These two couples are here because they need to talk about their teenaged children, who have gotten themselves involved in a bit of trouble.
The Dinner is a sneaky kind of novel. When finally, the truth is revealed as to exactly what Michel and Rick have done, we realize how difficult it is to assess facts. The clues have been there all along, right from the beginning, but we didn't recognize them for what they were. By the time the main course arrives, it's near impossible to know whom to believe and trust and what must be done after dessert is finished.
This dark and sinister story explores family relationships and loyalties. Although The Dinner takes place over one meal, there is plenty of tension and conflict to keep the story riveting. We can tell Paul is keeping secrets from everyone at the table, even from his wife, Claire. However, it turns out each one of them is hiding something. As the night goes on, and we learn the history of these brothers and their families, slowly but surely we realize nothing is as it first appears. The slow reveal of information invites us to question our assumptions. Perhaps there is something more than worry for his son's future behind Paul's irritation with the restaurant staff.
However, once the characters leave the restaurant, the tightly woven tale unravels a bit and steps into a slightly different realm, crossing an even darker threshold. I think I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending, keeping the story within the walls of the restaurant. Having a feeling of uncertainty so convincingly established, I would have preferred to wonder and debate what happened next.
Provocative and unsettling, this novel explores parental responsibility for their children's behavior, as well as the extreme lengths a parent would go to protect his or her child. But also, it suggests we face the fact that evil might not be easy to recognize. It might seem familiar and ordinary. It might lurk in places we'd never suspect. Evil just might be sitting across the dinner table.
Reviewed by Sarah Tomp
Rated of 5
by Diane S.
First book that I have rated so highly even though I did not like any of the characters. This is a book of moral complexity narrated by an unreliable narrator, who at first seems to take the politeness and political correctness out of all conversations at dinner. He does this basically inside himself, not outside where any can hear but he is extremely skeptical of almost everything. From the beginning the reader knows this is not going to be a lighthearted dinner between siblings, the tension is felt almost immediately, but it is very hard to guess where exactly this will lead. So despite the fact that I did not like any of these people I still wanted to keep reading to find out what was going on. Psychological suspense for sure and I now know what Maureen's whoa meant. ARC from publisher.
Early on in The Dinner, we discover the reason Paul and Claire are meeting Serge and Babette for dinner: they are to discuss a problem facing their children, Michel and Rick. We know the boys have done something wrong. Then Paul mentions a genetic test that couldthrough amniocentesisidentify a mysterious and unnamed condition that might predict an individual's tendency toward violence. It made me wonder if such a test really exists. And, if so, what would a parent do with that information?
The birth of a child is usually a moment of great joy. The parents are filled with anticipation for the future, with hopes and dreams. Great expectations abound. But, if a parent knew his infanta perfect, sweet-smelling bundle of joywould grow up to perform horrific acts of violence, would he love that little baby any less? Would she want to do whatever possible to change that dismal destiny? And could that parent be held accountable for the child's crime?
If a food allergy is identified, of course parents will ensure that food is avoided. If skin cancer runs in a family, the diligent use of sunscreen is to be expected. Children of alcoholics are encouraged to be wary of the risk of addiction. What if violence and aggression could be predicted?
An estimated 1/3 of the male population carries a genetic mutation of the MAO-A (Monoamine oxidase A) gene. This gene is believed to be crucial in handling the body's response to anger. When this MAO-A polymorphism occurs, an individual may exhibit excessive aggression; as noted by Dutch geneticist Dr. Han Brunner. Nicknamed the "Warrior Gene," this mutation has been suggested as a sort of marker to predict acts of violence. However, the aggressive behaviors are most likely to occur when the individual has also been exposed to violence or mistreated as a child.
It is, perhaps, tempting to blame a particular biological condition when trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. Connecticut's chief medical examiner has asked geneticists to examine the DNA of Adam Lanza, the young gunman who shot 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 for possible genetic anomalies. But would a single gene variance truly explain this horror? More important, will this knowledge help us to prevent a future attack?
In the documentary, "Born to Rage: Inside the Warrior Gene," two brothers, both former gang members, were found to carry this particular genetic marker. However, they also reported growing up in the midst of gang life and were active members by the age of ten. Since then, each man has denounced gang life and both contribute positively to society. Other men with a history of violent crime were also identified with carrying this mutated gene, as were several Buddhist monks dedicated to a life of peace and a former Navy Seal turned entrepreneur. And yet, none of the professional Mixed Martial Arts fighters tested positive. In short, the connection between the "warrior gene" and violence seems to be tenuous at best.
As Dr. Han Brunner said, "because genes are essentially simple and behavior is by definition complex, a direct causal relationship between a single gene and a specific behavior is highly unlikely."
To see the documentary about the warrior gene, click on the video below:
By Sarah Tomp
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