Time to Eat: Book Review for The Dinner by Herman Koch

Originally published February 2013

Looking to devour the next great read? Try this one: “The Dinner” by Herman Koch.

I picked this up after a good 15 minutes of staring at New Releases at my local indie bookshop—it was the praise from Gillian Flynn on the back of the book jacket that sold me. If Gillian likes it, then I would too. Understanding this might not be the best time for me to pick up a stressful read, I forged ahead with the hope that this would make my everyday woes pale in comparison to this book’s residents of Crazy Town.

I am delighted to say that … yep. Anything I have going on is nothing compared to the wonder brother duo of Serge and Paul Lohman, their wives Babette and Claire, and their kids Rick, Beau and Michel.

The setting for the novel is a single evening at one of their town’s finer dining establishments. The point of the meeting? To discuss the reprehensible actions of their children. Over the courses of the meal, the varied layers of Paul’s personality are revealed slowly—almost as if you are to take them in a single bite at a time. As Paul is the narrator, readers aren’t allowed true perspective from Serge, Paul’s brother and the presumptive winner of the upcoming election for Prime Minister. We know Serge as Paul does—a simpleton whose charismatic flair has propelled him forward in life. Interesting to note—Paul really sets Serge up as a fake (he hates the notion that Serge consider himself the expert on all things wine after a single class) but by the end, I was pretty sure Serge is the only sane one of the bunch.

The moral dilemma for the reader to consider? You love your kid. You want to instill good values and a strong moral code within them. But when things go horribly awry, how far are you willing to go to sweep it under the rug? The protect them from the appropriate consequences for their actions? And what if you and your spouse see things differently? And this isn’t a “Johnny, you stole that candy bar from the grocery store? I wonder if we should march you back there and explain yourself, or if I just say don’t do that again, you’ll understand that stealing is wrong?” kind of situation. Think murder, depravity, and all of it on YouTube. I frickin’ hate YouTube. Well, except for the screaming goat videos. Those are hilarious.

Don’t let the fact the book has been translated from Dutch dissuade you the way I ignored “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” when I found out that was translated—this isn’t a clunky read. It took me about a day-and-a-half of picking it up and putting it down whenever I could. At just under 300 pages, you could polish this meal off in a weekend. Don’t miss it, and a great choice for your next book club.

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