The Dinner, by Herman Koch is a story line that is literally served between courses at a restaurant. I found that a unique way of presenting the issues within the pages, regarding the four individuals who were having dinner together.
I liked The Dinner, but did not enjoy it (there is a difference). I thought the message was well-stated within the behavior of the characters. I did not like the characters, but that is okay…I don’t think the reader is meant to like them. Koch wants the reader to feel the dislike, because it plays into the foundation of the underlying story. They are not nice individuals, and their personalities play out within the pages. Their quirks or flaws are well defined. Koch did an excellent job of character description and with vivid word-imagery.
I did like the intense look at the psychological mindset of the character named Paul. I did like how that mindset played out over the dinner courses at the restaurant. With each course or serving, we are given more facts from his perspective, facts relevant to his state of being, and facts related to his family. It is apparent to me, from the beginning, that he has mental and emotional issues due to his constant rambling, but it was not immediately known exactly to what extent.
His seemingly supportive wife, Claire, acted level-headed, initially, but as the pages wore on, the reader is exposed to her real state of being. Supportive, yes, but for a definite purpose. She was a manipulative person, having the upper hand. Her external appearances to others was superficial, and any substance she had was buried inside of her.
Paul’s brother, Serge, initially seemed to be an arrogant person, one all knowing in the sense that wherever he went people recognized him. He appeared to dismiss that fact, but in truth he probably enjoyed the attention given to him. Paul had definite opinions regarding Serge, and didn’t hesitate to state them (in his own mind) during the dinner. He pounced on every issue he could think of, and his negativity was blunt and overt.
Serge’s wife, Babette, was condescending, and emotionally unstrung throughout some of the dinner. Her interactions were like those of a victim, one who has been hurt. She went along with Serge’s decisions, even if she didn’t agree with them.
Serge did end up looking as if he was the one person with a moral backbone, and a person who felt that the actions of his son should be met with the repercussions from them. Paul and Claire definitely did not have a moral backbone. Their reactions to the situation at hand were out of the box, so to speak.
The dinner was at an extremely upscale and expensive restaurant. Each course was deliberately displayed as almost an act in a play, with extreme body language from the server. The portions were minute, but depicted with much ado and flair. The person who served them gave descriptions that were literally geographic and explained with a snobbish attitude.
Why this particular restaurant was chosen is beyond me, but so be it. The restaurant became the setting for a much deeper issue, the issue of the children of the four diners. Once I got past the first 100 or so pages, the real foundation of the meeting was exposed. The children were discussed in random manners, as each course presented new information regarding their recent activity. It was almost as if some of those present were in denial of the facts.
Those facts lead up to horrific events that the teen-aged children were involved in, which almost left me wanting to not finish the book. I did finish it, although at times it was a struggle due to the graphic depictions and intensity. It is a story that is significant to today’s parent/child relationships, sibling relationships and marital relationships, as far as ethics, morals and responsibility is concerned.
Disregard for humanity is at the core of the story. What happened is nothing new, but the way Koch depicted it was so graphically vivid, that it was almost as if I was there to witness the horrendous events.
I will not go into the story any further, as it will spoil it for those reading this review.
The Dinner is a novel with a disturbing story line. It made this reader question many issues, such as hereditary traits and nature versus nurture. What about mental illness? Should it be a defining factor in a person’s actions, actions that cause harm to others? And, what about the spouse in that type of situation, should they enable the distorted behavior? The ethical issues of parenthood are foremost within the pages, and how parents react to their child having done something so horrible to another person. Should parents enforce responsibility for their child’s actions versus not taking responsibility? Should the crime be covered up or revealed to the authorities? Would you concur with an ethical and moral outcome?
Human life is invaluable, no matter the monetary and living standards of that person. Just because they are down and out does not mean they can then become prey to another person’s whims. We see all too often the results of bullying and discriminatory behavior. The Dinner, by Herman Koch, is a prime example of how mental illness plays out in the scheme of life. It also is an example of parental protection within the realm of morals and dilemmas.
Like I said, I liked the story line, but did not enjoy it. It was a dark book, an intense narrative, and it has deep-rooted messages for the reader, if they stick with the story until the end (which for some might be difficult to do).