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.