As I live in the Netherlands, my book club often reads novels from Dutch writers. The Dinner was the first novel I’ve read from Herman Koch. I planned on reading it in Dutch, but I received the English version as a gift from my mother-in-law (which is kind of weird as we’ve spoken Dutch together for the past twenty-three years). The novel has been filmed not once, not twice, but three times! Once as a fancy schmancy Hollywood production with Richard Gere. The book is also a New York Times Bestseller and has won various awards. What’s all the hubbub about?
~ Blurb ~
A summer’s evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness – the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened…
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
~ My Review ~
After reading the novel, I’m not sure why this novel has gained the coveted bestseller status. The narration is simple and boring. The narrator tells us in excruciating detail the specifics of the menu and his ordering. I cringed as he ridiculed the waiter. He also sounds like a pompous ass as he talks about the ‘normal’ café where ‘normal’ people congregate. I felt like I was force feeding myself the first half of this book. Will the narrator ever get to the point?
Although the story ostensibly takes place over a dinner, the narration jumps back and forth through various happenings in the past. He omits simple details like the disease from which his wife suffered and his medical condition. As he’s an obviously unreliable narrator, the reader is unsure of which events are fact and which are fiction. Frankly, I didn’t care enough about the narrator to try and figure it out.
There was not one character in this novel who redeemed himself. They are all horrible people covering up a heinous crime committed by their children. I believe the stir this novel has caused is due to this subject matter. The question should arise as to how far you would go to protect your children. This issue, however, is irrelevant here as the severity of the crime committed by the children is such that a decent human being can only hope they would not cover up the crime as these parents did.
~ Lost in translation? ~
As we discussed this novel at my book club, I realized all three of the Dutch members read the novel in Dutch and were decidedly more positive about the novel. They found the writing caustically witty. I have long been a believer that humor does not translate well. Being witty is especially difficult in a foreign language. Maybe someday I’ll have the time to read the novel in Dutch and make a different assessment. For now, I simply cannot recommend reading The Dinner.