The Dinner by Herman Koch

The DinnerI wrote in my Best of 2012 review of the year that one of the books I was most looking forward to reading was ‘The Dinner’ by Herman Koch which tells the story of Paul Lohman who goes out to a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam with his wife, Claire, his brother Serge and his wife, Babette.  During the course of the evening, it emerges that Paul and Claire’s son, Michel has been involved in a serious crime which also involves his cousin, Rick.  I had read a number of positive reviews of this quirky-sounding book and so when it appeared on the Kindle Daily Deal page for 99p just after I had received an e-reader for Christmas, I had no excuse not to get it!

It is difficult to describe the story without giving too much of the plot away.  The structure of the book is split into chapters named after dinner courses with the main action taking place during the dinner itself along with quite a few flashbacks.  As the evening progresses, more family secrets are revealed, tensions rise and the inevitable explosive ending will occur.  It’s an interesting premise and overall, I would say that it is pulled off pretty well even though the concept seems more suited to a play rather than a novel.  The black humour certainly helps.

The whole narrative is very meandering and goes off on a lot of tangents – a little bit like a conversation at a dinner table, funnily enough.  The slow beginning and pretentious dinner table waffle might annoy some readers but if you look beyond that, there are also some deeper layers to the story which explore a lot of interesting questions about parenting and relationships.  You might find your sympathy for various characters has subtly changed by the time you finish reading even though I would say none of them are particularly likeable or wholly reliable.

Overall, I thought ‘The Dinner’ was quite a light, quick and entertaining read in spite of its dark subject matter.  If you enjoy quirky modern European literature, then I recommend you give it a go.


Filed under Books

8 responses to “The Dinner by Herman Koch

  1. I totally agree with your review of ‘The Dinner’. It was good quirky read and gave much food for thought!


  2. So how was it reading on a Kindle?


  3. I enjoyed this book too! In fact, I’ll probably re-read it this year. If you’re planning to read more Dutch/Belgian writers, join the Dutch challenge (on my Dutch blog, use Google translate or ask me), minimum 5 books written in Dutch.


  4. Sounds interesting…will have to look it up, thanks. As I’m writing my novel, I find I do write it like a play – I work scene by scene. This helps me ensure I’m moving the plot along and not getting stuck in a long-winded chapter that could get boring for readers.


  5. The cover alone makes me want to read this book!


  6. Vishy

    Nice review! When I asked one of my Dutch friends to recommend a Dutch book a few years back, this was the first one she mentioned. At that time it was not available in English translation and so I couldn’t get it. I had forgotten all about it when I saw your review. Thanks for making me remember it again. I am so glad that Herman Koch’s book is now available in English translation. I am hoping to read it soon.


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