Synopsis: An evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet for dinner. They need to discuss their teenage sons. The boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on CCTV. They remain unidentified – except by their parents. How far will each couple go to protect their child?
Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
The Dinner has been tagged as the ‘European Gone Girl’ by the Wall Street Journal; I’m not sure if I completely agree. Sure, the characters are shallow and apparently all have a complete lack of morals but that, in my opinion, is where the resemblance ends.
I wouldn’t call this a thriller, rather a psychological study of parents with seriously questionable principles. It’s a quirky and quick read, but I was left feeling – for lack of a better word – meh. Don’t get me wrong, I finished the book in two sittings; it was easy-to-read and entertaining, there just wasn’t enough of anything there to make me either love it or hate it.
Each third is split up into a ‘course’ of the dinner, a concept that I initially loved. We begin with ‘aperitif’, which is full of the protagonist’s ramblings about his preferences for dining out. Things pick up during the ‘main course’ and we jump back and forth in time to open up key aspects of the plot. Unfortunately, once given these titbits of great narrative, Koch fails to divulge any useful detail and makes the whole thing seem a bit pointless. Then there’s the finale, the ‘dessert’, the one part of the meal which should never be rushed. Koch apparently disagrees; the story is wrapped up quicker than you can say ‘may I have the bill please?’
The book’s saving grace is the satire on Dutch politics. Serge – who is, in my opinion, the only likeable character – epitomises the illustrious ‘wannabe’ politician and his elitist mannerisms made for an entertaining read.
Overall, I found The Dinner to be enjoyable, but not incredibly special. Despite all its intriguing aspects, the novel falls flat for me. Like the pretentious dinner he describes, there are enough additions to keep you reading, but The Dinner lacks the substance it needs to become truly satisfying.