Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THE DINNER by Herman Koch

If you need to like the characters in order to like the book, this is not the novel for you.  The setting is a pretentious, absurdly overpriced restaurant in Amsterdam and begins innocently enough.  Paul, his brother Serge, and their wives are meeting for dinner to talk about their children.  Paul is the narrator and has nothing but snide contempt for his brother, running for Prime Minister of the Netherlands.  Serge thrives on being in the limelight, and Paul, a history teacher on medical leave, is obviously quite envious of Serge's success.  We soon learn that these four people are all despicable, and some of them are probably sociopaths.  Worse yet are Paul and Claire's son Michel and Serge and Babette's son Rick, who have together committed an atrocity without suffering any consequences whatsoever.  What the teenage boys do is bad enough, but their parents' responses are the most appalling aspect of the novel.  This is not merely about damage control, and these boys have more than just a case of affluenza.  I'm not sure if the author is making a statement about our society and goes way overboard, or if he is having a little sadistic fun, making us squirm over parental attitudes that are beyond disturbing.  In fact, Claire and Paul share such an atrocious rationalization of their son's actions that we shudder at how two such people would find each other, with neither able to offer a moral compass for their son.  I like for characters to be striped with a little good and a little bad, and characters this one-dimensional seem too unreal.  However, three of the four parents are so jaw-droppingly vile, that morbid curiosity got the better of me.  Can you imagine protecting a child's "future" when that future probably holds increasingly more violent acts?  I would read a sequel.


Elizabeth said...

I haven't read this book.

THANKS for your review.

PattisPages said...

I don't usually like translations, but the wordplay at the beginning of this novel is superb. I don't know Dutch, but I can imagine that some liberties were taken to make this novel work, and it works very well indeed.

Kris said...

I like the term is especially apt for the people in this book.