THE DINNER by Herman Koch

THE DINNER

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A high-class meal provides an unlikely window into privilege, violence and madness.

Paul, the narrator of this caustic tale, initially appears to be an accomplished man who’s just slightly eccentric and prone to condescension: As he and his wife prepare for a pricey dinner with his brother and sister-in-law, he rhetorically rolls his eyes at wait staff, pop culture and especially his brother, a rising star in the Dutch political world. The mood is mysteriously tense in the opening chapters, as the foursome talk around each other, and Paul’s contempt expands. The source of the anxiety soon becomes evident: Paul’s teenage son, along with Paul’s brother’s children, was involved in a violent incident, and though the videos circulating on TV and YouTube are grainy, there’s a high risk they’ll be identified. The formality of the meal is undone by the parents’ desperate effort to keep a lid on the potential scandal: Sections are primly titled “Aperitif,” “Appetizer” and so on, but Koch deliberately sends the narrative off-menu as it becomes clear that Paul’s anxiety is more than just a modest personality tic, and the foursome’s high-toned concerns about justice and egalitarianism collapse into unseemly self-interest. The novel can be ineffectually on the nose when it comes to discussions of white guilt and class, the brothers’ wives are thin characters, and scenes meant to underscore Paul’s madness have an unrealistic vibe that show Koch isn’t averse to a gratuitous, melodramatic shock or two. Even so, Koch’s slow revelation of the central crisis is expertly paced, and he’s opened up a serious question of what parents owe their children, and how much of their character is passed on to them.

At its best, a chilling vision of the ugliness of keeping up appearances.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7704-3785-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Hogarth/Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2012




BEST NOVELS TO GET YOUR BOOK CLUB TALKING:

FictionLONGBOURN by Jo Baker
by Jo Baker
FictionLOOKAWAY, LOOKAWAY by Wilton Barnhardt
by Wilton Barnhardt
FictionA COMMONPLACE KILLING by Siân Busby
by Siân Busby
FictionA THOUSAND PARDONS by Jonathan Dee
by Jonathan Dee

OUR CRITICS' TAKES ON MORE BESTSELLERS

See full list >
Cover art for THE GREATEST LOVE STORY EVER TOLD
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for DEAR EVAN HANSEN
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for I LOST MY TOOTH!
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Cover art for CARMELA FULL OF WISHES
VERDICT:
BUY IT

MORE BY HERMAN KOCH

FictionDEAR MR. M by Herman Koch
by Herman Koch
FictionSUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL by Herman Koch
by Herman Koch

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionTHE SUICIDE OF CLAIRE BISHOP by Carmiel Banasky
by Carmiel Banasky
FictionWE & ME by Saskia de Coster
by Saskia de Coster
AdultIF I COULD GIVE YOU A DAY by Dave Richards
by Dave Richards
FictionSUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL by Herman Koch
by Herman Koch
FictionEVERY LAST ONE by Anna Quindlen
by Anna Quindlen