The Dinner Book Review

This is a book that I never thought I would read, let alone review.  When I first learned about The Dinner by Herman Koch, I was intrigued.  It sounded like a great plot, until I heard reviews.  It was being compared to Gone Girl.  I knew that was where they lost me.  I had no interest in reading another book like Gone Girl (my apologies to those who liked it) and have avoided reading any of Gillian Flynn’s other novels because of it.  But yesterday, when I was scouring our library’s digital catalog for something to listen to while cooking and doing laundry, this book came across my radar.  For some reason, I wondered if listening to the book might be better than actually reading it.  In my head, I justified it as multi-tasking.  I had nothing to lose.  If I didn’t enjoy it, at least I hadn’t wasted time sitting and doing nothing other than reading.  In fact, I got quite a lot done around the house while listening to it over the last two days.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

As readers, we are invited to join a family dinner among two brothers and their spouses in a swanky upscale restaurant in Amsterdam.  The majority of the book takes place around the table, with plenty of flashbacks to bolster the plot.  Narrator Paul tells the story of his son Michel and his brother’s son, who together have committed a horrific crime.  The two families meet to discuss how the incident should be handled.  

The audio version of The Dinner is narrated by Clive Mantle.  Mantle delivers this reading so brilliantly that, at first, I thought the book to be satire.  As I was listening, I actually thought to myself, “No wonder people don’t like it!  They aren’t getting the satire.  They aren’t reading into the sarcasm that seems to drip from the narrator’s voice when you hear it as an audiobook.”   But as the story wore on, I realized that it was not satire at all.  What I was hearing was complete contempt.  

I had a wide range of emotions while listening to this book.  At first, thinking it was satire, I found it to be a bit humorous.  Paul is poking fun at the expensive restaurant chosen by his brother Serge, who is a shoo-in to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands.  I quickly realize that he dislikes his brother and my attitude towards his brother is begrudging.  As we learn of the sons’ crime, I come to empathize with the parents, wondering what I would do if I were to find myself in a similar situation.  However, as Paul continues to create a backstory, my distaste for him as a person grows.  I find myself completely unsurprised that his son could commit such a horrific act.  And now, thinking back on the story, I find myself wondering if Serge wasn’t quite as terrible as I had made him out to be.  I’ve not read many books that have played with my emotions quite like this one.

The Dinner was a great book to listen to on audio.  I’m glad I chose this format because I would have crawled through it at a much slower pace had I been reading it.  This book has been classified as a psychological thriller.  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I would say that it was dark.  It was dark in a way that you knew there would be no happy ending, similar to an Edgar Allan Poe story.  Yet, I was eager to know how it would end.  With all of its delicious twists and horrifying turns, the ending is one that may not surprise you.  But I can assure you, it will be a dinner unlike any you would ever want to attend.

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