Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Tweet:  Reading this book was like unwrapping a beautiful package only to be surprised by a ticking time bomb hidden inside.  A terrific, albeit disconcerting, read.

     Peering through the window of a posh Amsterdam restaurant, you see two well heeled couples enjoying an evening out together.  Slowly you begin to realize that there is much more to this dinner than merely a shared meal.  You develop a persistent, vague discomfort that something extremely nasty lays beneath this well mannered vignette, and before you know it the civility unravels completely to reveal a disturbingly fascinating story.  This is The Dinner by Herman Koch, and it is a wonderfully crafted novel.
From the outset, we know that our narrator Paul does not want to dine with the couple he is to meet, nor does he want to go to this particular trendy restaurant where reservations must be made months in advance.  ("Personally, I'd never want to know three months in advance where I'm going to eat on any given evening, but apparently some people don't mind.")  In fact, his running observations about the food, wait staff and management are hilarious.  But here lies Koch's particular talent:  He deftly integrates ridiculous socially acceptable behavior with the darkest societal repugnancies, and before long the reader can no longer tell which is the most outrageous.

     Is my description of The Dinner too opaque?  Perhaps, but to reveal the plot would deprive the reader of the joys of discovering the story from Aperitif through Digestif.  I can tell you this, though:  The Dinner may be the most memorable reading meal you will have for a long time.

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