Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Dinner from Hell

Big thank you to friends Kathy Babcock and Linda Holland for encouraging me to go ahead and read this absolutely bizarre novel, The Dinner, by Herman Koch, no matter what the New York Times had to say about it. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/books/the-dinner-by-herman-koch.html?_r=0
This book may be controversial but it grabs your attention from the first page and doesn't for a minute let you go. I've read that it's being compared to Gone Girl which I find laughable. The quality of the writing in Gillian Flynn's book was mediocre at best and her characters were simply not believable.

Now, in The Dinner, the characters may be despicable but they are fabulously drawn, realistic in their anger and evil, and even understandable to a degree that brave book groups could explore. How far would you go to protect your child from a prison sentence? Motivation? You betcha. How many parents do you know right now who would deny that their child could deliberately perpetrate an act of unwarranted violence? Why is bullying a national obsession? Are mental health illnesses more prevalent or just more out in the open? Can a person diagnosed with a mental health issue that might make him prone to violent behavior justify going off his meds?

All these questions and more are there for discussion. Koch challenges readers in a way that few authors have the courage to do. He forces one to ruminate on the darkest angels of our natures rather than on the best. Admittedly, it's an uncomfortable place to be, much like going to a NASCAR race and secretly hoping to see a smash up.

The story takes place over the span of a few hours in an upscale restaurant in Holland to which the future prime minister has summoned his brother and sister-in-law and where they are to discuss an incident that took place between their two teen aged sons. As the meal progresses from appetizers to main course to dessert so does the conversation escalate accordingly from whispers to tears to tirades. When the back story reveals itself the reader must contend with having all his presuppositions upended and, as horrifying as it is, we must give credit where it is due.

Perhaps this isn't a novel one can say they "like," but it is a novel that forces you to sit up and take notice of a major literary talent. Herman Koch has accomplished an amazing feat. He forced this reviewer to fear her own reactions. Read it? Let me know what you think.


Kathleen said...

Placing a hold tomorrow!

Linda said...

Wasn't it fascinating how your opinions of the characters change as you progress through the dinner? So glad you read it. I'm just finishing Thompson's "The Humanity Project" and have begun Messud's "The Woman Upstairs." Would recommend both.

Sallyb said...

Linda, Those are both on my list of "to reads." I know how much you've always enjoyed Thompson.

Sallyb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.