Monday, May 13, 2013

The Dinner (Herman Koch)

The past few years have seen books trending towards the psychological thriller.  Some, such as William Landay’s Defending Jacob and S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep are like giant puzzles, just begging for the reader to put them together.  Others, like Gillian Flynn’s phenomenally successful Gone Girl, practically make the reader feel queasy inside and want to take a shower at the end.  Herman Koch’s international bestseller The Dinner is a hybrid of the two styles.

We start off with Paul and Claire, a husband and wife, getting ready for to go to an exorbitantly expensive restaurant with Paul’s brother and sister-in-law, Serge and Babette.  As Paul is the narrator (and he becomes an increasingly unreliable one at that as The Dinner progresses), we quickly learn that he does not want to go, but we're left to think that it’s because he does not get along with Serge.  Before they leave, Paul goes to his son’s (Michel’s) room to search for something on Michel’s cell phone.  We know that Paul found what he was looking for but do not quite know what that is until the real reason for the dinner becomes horrifyingly clear. 

Koch wisely fills the book with minutiae that lulls the reader almost into a false sense of complacency.  He describes the food ad nauseam, brilliantly naming each section after the dinner courses.  Then, without warning, Koch pulls the rug out from under us; the serene meal descriptions stop so he can get into the real “meat” of the story, and we are reminded that, unfortunately, things are rarely what they seem.