Paul and his wife Claire are off to have dinner at a fine and exclusive restaurant with Paul’s brother, Serge (a popular candidate to be the next Prime Minister of Denmark) and his wife Babette. It seems that their teenage boys have been up to no good (but have yet to be identified by the authorities) and this is to be the topic of conversation. Although there is a lot of tension, nastiness, flashbacks, and musings, the issue at hand does not get addressed until the dinner is nearly over. The resulting decisions of the parents, their actions and reactions, and the resulting implications left me appalled.
I have heard this book compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. They are both well-written and both left me disturbed by a set of annoying, psychotic, and generally unlikable and unsympathetic characters making horrific personal decisions. I have also heard this book compared to Defending Jacob by William Landay as books that address the lengths a parent will go to in defending their child. I’m not sure I completely agree. Defending Jacob deals with a parent’s love driving them to all-consuming belief in their child’s innocence in spite of evidence to the contrary. In contrast, The Dinner shows parents who have clear proof of their child’s guilt and react with an almost evil, cold-hearted, and amoral response to the situation with seemingly no concern for the consequences of their child’s actions or their own.
So, did I like it? Hmmm…. I’m not sure. It was well-written and the story certainly stuck with me. It’s very dark and biting, and although I often like dark stories and do not require happy endings, I also prefer stories where there are at least some sympathetic or likable characters… Would I recommend it? Sure, as long as you know what you’re getting into and don’t mind reading a disturbingly dark story with characters that seem to lack any type of moral compass.
Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Publication: Hogarth, February 2013