Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Two couples meet in a fancy restaurant. Serge, a candidate for a prime minister and his wife Babette, and his younger brother Paul with his wife Claire. However, they didn’t come to chat and enjoy good food. They came to talk about their children – Serge and Babette’s son Rick and Paul and Clair’s son Michel. Both children are 15 years old and committed a crime and their parents are discussing consequences.
As dinner develops from appetizer through the starter, main curse and dessert, it also intensifies the tension of conversation and the tension between their relations.
It took me more time to read this book, as I thought it will. Due to the fact that I heard nothing but good about this book and how intense and dark it is and that it should be a really quick read, I was surprised that it didn’t do such an impression on me.
I liked, how a structure of the dinner somehow makes a structure of a story. It starts with an aperitif where everybody is just chatting about movies and unimportant stuff but through every next course things complicates and tenses. The story focuses not only on a parent’s problem but also involves scenes from a restaurant which is really entertaining.
I didn’t like any of characters in this book. No one – neither both couples nor their sons, not the waiter or the girls working in a restaurant. All the characters are dislikable and I couldn’t identify or connect with them.
The main narrator in the story is Paul, who is the least likable of them all. Right from the start he seemed like an uptight man, full of himself, although he attempts to give a different impression. His contempt of his brother was at first funny but later I was tired of it. Generally, Paul seemed very “self-righteous” and that type of a guy who has everything worked out and thinks that only his principles are correct, all his actions are justified and that no one can judge him because he has everything figured out. It also seemed to me, that he’s jealous of everyone around him (including his wife in some cases) but especially of his brother. Paul doesn’t have anything nice to say about Serge, so during his narration through the story, I received negative opinion about Serge, although, in the end, he turned out to be the most normal of all (don’t be mistaken, he’s not a sympathetic man). They’re both bragging, though each in their own way. Serge, who is successful politician, is using his name for benefits and pretends to be something he’s not in public. Paul is trying to pretend that he doesn’t care for this things and that he’s pitying his brother because of this behavior. However, he does the same, just not so publicly.
Paul and Claire are constantly creating the image of a happy family but after Michel’s crime that image begin to fall into pieces. But still they don’t want to give up and their goal is to save a happy family farce. And this is also a basis of a story – how far will they go to protect this image? How far can parents go to protect their children? What is right and what’s wrong? Are there actions who can be forgiven because they were done by certain people (for example here, when the crime was committed by children)? Through the story, a reader is confronted with moral questions to which he must answer by himself. There are no clear answers because we all have different perspectives on various situations.
Despite the fact, I love books who are examining reader’s conscience, this book left me cold. Maybe because of dislikable characters and the fact I couldn’t identify with their story and I was actually judging them more and more with every page. Maybe this was a reason, why in this case, things seemed really clear to me and all their actions morally contentious. They all shown their hypocrisy, except Serge, who surprised me with his action (don’t worry, I will not spoil anything) but I’m also not sure if his action was made with so good intentions as I think.
And, I’m curious, would I look on a story differently, if I would have my own children?
Rating: 2/5 stars
Did you read The Dinner? I would love to hear your thoughts about this book! Did you liked it or not? Do we share the same opinions or not? If you read it, we can also discuss the moral questions from the book in comments below!