The Dinner by Herman Koch

Herman Koch’s The Dinner is an odd, creepy, and masterful novel. The sections of the book are set before the reader much as a dinner would be: Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, and so on. The narrative runs on at least two levels; the one night the dinner between two couples takes place, and the time leading up to the dinner.

Set in contemporary Holland, there is little description of places or people. There is a sense that this could take place in any city in the Western world.

Paul desperately wants to maintain the happiness of his little family. The book asks and provides some suggestive answers to the question—how far is Paul willing to go to make/create/maintain his happy family? Many situations in the story echo or touch on very difficult moral and ethical troubles any one of us could face. What is right? How does intelligence help or hinder us? What are we teaching our children? Will cell phones be the death of us? How do marriages survive or fail? And frankly, is this a book with a reliable or unreliable narrator?

I liked this book very much, although I did not feel the humor that some reviewers mention. The tension was wrapped more and more tightly, until I had to stop every few pages to gather my wits and because I was so anxious about where the book was going. The characters are well-drawn and kept true to their invented natures. I would never want to live in their world, but to peek through the windows made for a riveting read.

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