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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.


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