Skip to main content

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The DinnerNow this is a novel to get your teeth stuck into. Paul and his brother Serge have an uneasy relationship. Serge is a big-time politician, and in Paul’s opinion lays it all on a bit thick. The novel opens with Paul dwelling on their dinner date that evening. Serge has made the reservation, too easily, at a flash restaurant, flaunting his name and position and perceived good nature. It irks Paul, having a brother who’s a somebody, yet still able to communicate with the ordinary people. It irks him greatly. He takes great pleasure in going to a cafĂ© before dinner, without Serge, to spend some with his wife chatting and enjoying her company. He seems OK, Paul, a regular bloke with an over-achieving slightly annoying brother. Until his wife mentions their son.

It quickly becomes apparent that Michel, their son, has done something very bad. That’s why the dinner has been called, to do something about the situation. Serge’s son too is involved. The two sets of parents gather uneasily in the restaurant, with different expectations and approaches to the impending crisis. It takes some time to fully understand what the boys have done, and how much each parent knows about it. Every time I thought I had a grip on it all another little bomb was dropped. I’m reluctant to give anything much away here; I don’t want to diminish the jaw-dropping moments. Suffice to say, there were several points at which my mind went all boggly with disbelief. The self-justifying, self-centred thinking on display is breathtakingly awful. 

The book is structured around the courses of the meal, from aperitif to digestiv, and the story builds accordingly. This is an extreme family dilemma, with some extreme personalities involved. I found the story very involving and scarily believable. It’s presented in a perfectly rational, straightforward way. Paul’s version of events is without melodrama, contrasting brilliantly with the implications of what he reveals. Sociopathic behaviour has never been more reasonable or reasoned than in Koch’s five-course menu.


  1. I love your review, very nice! I'm Dutch and read this book in its original language. It's indeed a very interesting story about parents trying to justify the behaviour of their children.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Interview With The Vampire: Claudia's Story by Anne Rice and Ashley Marie Witter

Super Special Summer Picnic Book Chase

My nieces and nephews and I have a monthly book club, called Book Chase (although it sometimes gains an extra 's' to become Book Chasse). The rules are simple: we all bring something we've read during the last month, talk about it to each other, and eat snacks. We live tweet each meeting with the hashtag BookChase. Sometimes, when we remember, we Storify all the tweets too. This month, we remembered!


See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden and the Borden Murders See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

The story of Lizzie Borden has a whiff of folklore about it, it feels hazy to me, apocryphal perhaps, something half known and uncertain like Washington and the cherry tree or the ride of Paul Revere. Shamefully, I had to Google both the latter two examples to double check they were the events I thought I was referring to. I choose them deliberately though - is it my Englishness that makes these events fuzzy to me? Do these stories live in the American psyche the way Magna Carta, Henry VIII and his six wives, and Jack the Ripper (to select three almost at random) live in mine? 
I remember a book we stocked when I was a very young bookseller at Waterstones in Watford that looked at the psychology of children who murder their parents. The copy on the back of the book talked of Lizzie Borden. I remember half wondering about the case, then shelving the book away and moving onto the next armful. But it stuck in my m…