Summary and book reviews of The Dinner by Herman Koch

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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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

1

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 advance—or 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 file—I 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 room—that's what ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did your opinion of Paul and Serge shift throughout the novel? How might the story line have unfolded if it had been told from a mother's point of view?
  2. In what way do the courses of a meal—from aperitif to digestif—echo the experience of savoring a suspenseful novel? As the waiter described each delicacy in The Dinner, did the food appeal to you, or did you share Paul's belief that it was pretentious?
  3. What do you think of the sympathy Paul and Claire feel for their son? As a parent, how far would you go to defend your child?
  4. Do Michel and Rick represent the indifference of their generation, or are teenagers more socially conscious in the Information Age?
  5. How much influence do Claire and Babette have over their...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Provocative and unsettling, The Dinner 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.   (Reviewed by Sarah Tomp).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Koch's slow revelation of the central crisis is expertly paced, and he's opened up a serious question of what parents owe their children, and how much of their character is passed on to them…a chilling vision of the ugliness of keeping up appearances.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is a cunningly crafted thriller that will never allow you to look at a serviette in the same way again.

The Economist

[The Dinner] proves how powerful fiction can be in illuminating the modern world...The reader does not rise from his table happy and replete so much as stand up suddenly, pale and reeling. Bored with Fifty Shades of Grey and all that brouhaha? Read The Dinner - and taste the shock.

Author Blurb Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
The Dinner begins with drinks and dark satire, and goes stealthily and hauntingly from there. It's chilling, nasty, smart, shocking and unputdownable. Read the novel in one big gulp, and then make plans with friends - you'll be desperate to debate this book over cocktails, appetizers, entrees, dessert…and then you still won't be done talking about it.

Author Blurb SJ Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep
Funny, provocative and exceedingly dark, this is a brilliantly addictive novel that wraps its hands around your throat on page one and doesn't let go.

Author Blurb Scott Smith, author of The Ruins
Herman Koch has written a sneakily disturbing novel.  He lures us into his story with his unfailingly reasonable tone (just acidic enough to be entertaining), and before we know it we've found ourselves in places we never would've consented to go.  The Dinner is a smart, amiably misanthropic book, and it's tremendous fun to read.

Author Blurb Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap
The Dinner is a riveting, compelling and a deliciously uncomfortable read. Like all great satire it is both lacerating and so very funny... Intelligent and complex, this novel is both a punch to the guts and also a tonic. It clears the air. A wonderful book.

Author Blurb MJ Hyland, author of Carry Me Down
What a tremendous book. I loved every single gripping and strange thing about it.

Reader Reviews
Cloggie Downunder

compelling, thought-provoking novel
The Dinner is the sixth novel by Dutch actor, television and radio producer, newspaper columnist and author, Herman Koch, and the first book to be translated into English. Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at an expensive restaurant to ...   Read More

Diane S.

The Dinner
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 ...   Read More

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Is the Warrior Gene a Predictor of Violence?

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 could—through amniocentesis—identify 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 infant—a perfect, sweet-smelling bundle of joy&...

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