BOOK: The Dinner by Herman Koch (2013)

thedinnerI seem to be on an unintentional kick at the moment, reading two novels back-to-back that ended up being very similar.  As with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Herman Koch’s The Dinner is a story about people who initially seem to be good, “normal” folks caught in a troubling situation and are eventually revealed to be total whack-job monster people instead.

I won’t give away the identity of the monsters in this one — it’s better than Gone Girl, so you may want to pick it up — but I will say the monsters in this one are, in some ways, even more monstrous than the monsters in Gone Girl, so read it with the knowledge going in that you are about to meet some very, very disturbing people.

The story is framed around a single evening — two couples meeting for dinner at a fancy restaurant.  At first, it seems like a fairly mundane family event (the two husbands are brothers), but we quickly learn the engagement has a purpose beyond simple catching up.  They’re there to discuss one very specific subject:  their sons.

You see, a week or so before the dinner, a video was released over the TV news — security camera footage of two teenage boys (with fuzzy, unidentifiable faces) brutally beating a homeless woman and then setting her on fire, either accidentally or on purpose, depending on whom you believe.  Though the cops haven’t yet figured out who the boys are, their parents recognized them immediately and, after a short round of intra- and interpersonal denial have finally come together to figure out what to do next.

As the evening progresses, we get more and more information — about the boys, the incident, and their parents — until a final twist reveals, similar to Gone Girl, that we’ve been sort of fooled into believing certain things about certain people who end up being the radical opposite of the truth.

I guess what I’ve learned, via this coincidental double-feature, is that I get sucked in pretty quickly when novels are written well, as both these are, and have unpredictable twists, as both these do.  But what it turns out I do NOT like are stories about irredeemably awful people, with no real exploration of that awfulness coming along with them.  Neither book has any thoughtfulness to it — any depth.  It’s difficult to come away from either story with a sense they’ve enacted some sort of change in thinking or perspective, however minimal, which makes reading them feel more like an act of self-flagellation than anything else.

That said, if you liked Gone Girl, as many people way smarter than I am did, you’ll probably like The Dinner too.  If you didn’t like Gone Girl, you might ALSO like The Dinner — the characters are far less insufferable in their monstrousness, at least, even if the net effect for me was essentially the same:  a truly blechy taste left in my mouth upon close of book.

Either way, it’s time to switch genres.  Up next: Mary Doria Russell’s Western Doc!


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4 Responses to “BOOK: The Dinner by Herman Koch (2013)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Testing, testing – 1, 2, 3 – oh, oops! I really like your evaluations.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    That was me – Liz. Still the only way I seem to be able to get on.

  3. Tish Barkley (@NameUses) Says:

    I heard it in the featured line-up on Saturday on The Book Report radio show, and it sounded so interesting, I got it immediately. Have just finished it. The show usually gives you an idea of the narration by playing an excerpt from the audiobook, and it seemed like a particularly decent narration(take a listen at bookreportradio(dot)com if you prefer audio), I wish more reviewers were as honest as you were regarding how disturbing it was – something I don’t cope well with and is something I feel should be mentioned in more of the reviews-not all secrets are created equal!
    Thanks for the good and relevant review.
    PS. Should you be interested in following the show I mentioned, you can find all the details to upcoming author interviews, books, the website and highlights on their fb site (

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