I just finished reading The Dinner by Herman Koch, my first February book review for Random House Canada. This is probably the most difficult review I’ve ever had to write…
I found The Dinner to be an exceptionally difficult read for the first 100 pages or so. Why? Well because I didn’t really like any of the characters…and yet I thoroughly enjoyed the book. How is that possible? To be honest I didn’t think I would ever get through a book with characters I didn’t like but it’s an enriching experience. I found that I paid attention to them more, I wanted to dig deeper into who they are and what they bring to the story. I needed to understand why they were written the way they were. By the end of the novel I had a deeper appreciation for Paul, Claire, Babette, Serge, and Michel. I understood the demented and uncomfortable purpose of each of them, as well as the satirical nature of this novel.
The Dinner reminded me immensely of Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It took me a little longer to sink my teeth into but once the appetizers were over I couldn’t wait to get to the next course — I mean that literally since the book is made up of five parts (Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert, and Digestif).
I must admit that the writing and the way Herman Koch compares and explains people, emotions, and situations is absolutely brilliant. Like the way Paul describes how different Babette is when he greets her at the dinner,
“Yet there was something else, something different about her this time, like a room where someone has thrown out all the flowers while you were gone: a change in the interior you don’t even notice at first, not until you see the stems sticking out of the garbage.” (Page 31)
See what I mean? You can literally SEE the changes in this woman who you have just been introduced to! Brilliant. As the novel progresses the writing keeps getting better, the characters become more interesting, and the plot gets thicker. The Dinner is probably the most thought-provoking, intense, and shocking novel I’ve read in a while. On the surface The Dinner is just a story about a family trying to find their own happiness but it becomes so much more than that.
“…we would be able to go on living as a happy family. A scar would remain somewhere, true enough, but a scar does not have to get in the way of happiness.” (Page 149-150)