Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: THE DINNER, by Herman Koch

The Dinner, by Herman Koch. Published 2013 by Hogarth Press. Literary Fiction. Translation.

It's been a while since I read something as messed up as The Dinner, recently published by the Random House imprint Hogarth. I'm big fan of Hogarth; two of the books they published last year ended up among my favorites for the year (The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya and The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne.) This one was blurbed by no less a personage in the world of thrillers than Gillian Flynn, and the premise- two couples meet for dinner, an explosive secret between them- intrigued me.

I can't say I was disappointed. The book delivers when it comes to the shocks, the twists and turns. Paul and his wife Claire meet his brother Serge and Serge's wife Babette at a chic eatery in the Netherlands. Serge is a politician about to run for (and likely win) the office of Prime Minister. Paul and Claire are the first to arrive. When Serge and Babette get there, it's obvious Babette has been crying. Why?

Little by little, Herman Koch teases out the knotted threads that bind these four people. The book is divided into sections representing the courses of the meal and facts are dished out with the languor of a luxury meal. We learn, among other things, that Paul is quintessentially unreliable, unstable and worse. We learn what his son and Serge's son did, what they may still be doing. And we learn what one of the party is willing to do to make sure no one ever finds out.

This was a tough, tough read, and even if it doesn't show up on the year's favorites, it will be one of the year's most memorable books for sure. If you thought Gone Girl had some psychos, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. At this point I really don't want to think much more about this book, because it was that disturbing, like a bad nightmare, but one you can't turn away from. I think it's masterfully written, so drawn out and slow yet the impressions it leaves are indelible, like a stain you can't get out. I've heard some people say the book has no sympathetic characters and I don't agree. There is one person who tries to do the right thing. The problem is that Paul has us hating that person. Paul ridicules this individual but we are seeing him through Paul's eyes, and remember what I said about Paul. I had a great deal of sympathy for this character, particularly by the horrible end.

Take it on if you're up for a challenge, but don't mistake this for an easy read.

Rating: BUY but buyer beware!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Hogarth.

18 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Man, I love a twisted yarn. And I know exactly what you mean...you can't turn away from these books but they are gut-wrenching enough to only be read once. I'm very much intrigued...

Sandy Nawrot said...

Hot DAMN my library has it on audio!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

OMG...you make me want to jump to it right now! I am so curious.

The way I look at it can't be more disturbing to American Psycho which I am almost done listening to:)

bkclubcare said...

Uh oh, looks possibly like a tough one for my club but will see what happens. I wonder if I should go audio...

Alex in Leeds said...

Hmmm, it's got a hold list at my local library - I'll wait for horrified readers to start abandoning it and returning it before I put my name down!

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

THis is one of those books that blindsided me last year. I read the first chapter prior to going on vacation an thought it would be a very bougie read. I even thought the setting was some place like L.A. Couldn't have been more wrong! But I loved the insidious way the plot unfolded in this book.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Um, I should specify that I read an ARC with no description whatsoever--otherwise that would be pretty dim of me.

bermudaonion said...

Ooh, more twisted than Gone Girl? You've intrigued me!

Trish said...

Doesn't sound like my kind of thing at all..."a stain that can't be washed out..." Sounds quite grim.

JoAnn said...

Not sure this is for me, but what an intriguing review!

Zibilee said...

I just bought this one, after reading your review, but before leaving my comment. I need something like this, that is horribly unsettling, but also too good to put down. You have an incredible persuasiveness in your reviews, Marie!!

Literate Housewife said...

I just picked this up the other day. It's set in the Netherlands, isn't it? I'm looking forward to making time for it soon. I love a good twisted read.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

I just got a copy of it in French translation and I can't wait to read it. More twisted than Gone Girl? Sounds exactly like the type of book that intrigues me! Great review, I'm looking forward to reading it too.

Ali said...

This sounds incredibly dark, but exquisite. And also, very hard to review!

River City Reader said...

I loved this book. It reminded me of the movie Funny Games in some ways. It didn't have to be bloody or violent to be incredibly intense and disturbing. I wish there were more books that were subtle in that way.

Athira said...

I'm waiting to get hold of this book at my library. It sounds amazing - disturbing yes, but also hard to keep away from.

stacybuckeye said...

I had a bad taste after finishing Gone Girl so to think there could be a worse cast of characters is a turnoff. But, like a fiery wreck, something I may need to see for myself!
Great review!

Laurie C said...

I'm going back and reading reviews now that I've written mine. The Dinner was a very memorable audiobook but as you said, not one that you could call a "favorite". I've seen a couple of reviews calling it a beach read (maybe because it's short and Paul's breezy tone at the beginning?) but I wouldn't consider it a light read at all!