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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  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2013, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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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 restaurants call "customer relations management."

Serge never reserves a table three months in advance. Serge makes the reservation on the day itself—he 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 him—that 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 there—I didn't feel like that, either.

2

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 families—and within those families, in particular the unhappy husband and wife—can never get by on their own. The more validators, the merrier. Unhappiness loves company. Unhappiness can't stand silence—especially 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.

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