The Dinner, Herman Koch

ImageThis is one of those books from my TBR pile. I think it landed there because of a review I read somewhere … not sure where exactly … but it was there and I read it. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book – clearly, some tale about a dinner as the title so clearly indicates and I was anticipating food and characters and perhaps an unusual location. I read the book with the cover pictured here so I might have been looking for a shellfish of sorts. I’m not entirely sure. And I have to confess that I wasn’t totally disappointed: there is a dinner and there are characters and the food is certainly interesting.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the depth that I found in this truly unusual story. And by depth I don’t mean deep thinking stuff, I mean totally mind blowing, out of my reality kind of stuff. I was totally unprepared for what unfolded in this text, for the responses of the characters and the way they dealt with the situation at hand. I’m not going to go into it too closely because it will totally destroy the book for those of you wanting to read it. I’ll just say that there is a socially provocative event involving a homeless person and some upper class boys and what struck me was the way the boys’ parents elected to respond (or not) to the boys’ behaviour.

In some ways, what was really interesting was glossed over – a tortured marriage, an adopted child and his fate, amongst other things. I expect Koch did this intentionally, a means of flummoxing readers, leading them down one path tenderly even though they really want to go down another path that seems more entertaining from a distance but really isn’t at all. I was intrigued by the way the action all unfolded over this multiple-course meal with foods that were so gourmet they were almost invisible. I loved the way the waiter flicked his pinkie while describing the food, the irritation of the patrons as they examined their plates, hoping the pinkie flicking would stop so that they could just enjoy their meal. It all added to the tortured atmosphere and made me realise the absolute dysfunction of so many families; and this is the essence of this book, an incredibly dysfunctional and disturbing (read disturbing) family who teeters on the edge of society and amazingly doesn’t drown or land up imprisoned or perhaps institutionalised.

I am not sure what I learned from this book. I am sure that I am absolutely so grateful for my normal and often irritating brood.


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