Herman Koch’s The Dinner met with tremendous success worldwide and I still think it has some literary value, but this next one, about a seriously flawed medical doctor and his dysfunctional family and friends, seems to me like a quick cash grab follow up. This is a weak novel with no point.
Though a difficult book to read, The Dinner certainly seemed to have some merit in raising interesting issues and examining middle class morality. But after hearing several interviews with the author and reading another one of his books, I have come to the conclusion that he really just likes writing about disgusting people and there is no further purpose, there are no underlying themes. He simply believes that people, given the chance and the right circumstances, will behave badly. Finish.
I’m not against reading books about awful people if there is a point to it, if there is some character development, if there is some redemption somewhere. Or if the writing is good and shines a light on the reality of darkness in our world and helps us deal with it. Darkness in the hands of a good novelist can be very meaningful. But Koch ticks none of these boxes. I picked it up mostly because it is translated from the Dutch. I kept reading because the author built in a bit of intrigue and I wanted to find out what was going to happen. And I kept expecting it to improve, but it never did.
How far would you go to protect the ones you love?
That is the haunting question which echoes in the background of a horrifying situation revealed through what, on the surface, appears to be an evening of fine dining in a Dutch restaurant. Translated by Sam Garrett from the Dutch, this book has already sold more than 1 million copies in 24 countries.
Herman Koch has given the reader an intriguing look at what people will do to protect the ones they love and not lose their ‘happy family’. The horror is not the ‘bump in the night’ kind, but rather a chilling revelation in this psychological thriller, revealing a family not happy at all.
The stage of the story is set with two upper middle class brothers and their wives meeting in a restaurant with the courses serving as acts in the play. Their children have been caught on CCTV camera committing a horrible crime which shocks the nation, but only their parents have recognized them so far in the grainy video.
Koch keeps the narrative flowing well and the running commentary is actually very engaging, especially if you are Dutch or know the Dutch culture. Appearances matter and rules must be kept especially among the respectable bourgeois, but as dinner progresses, the story reaches a ‘culinary climax’ and all semblance of normalcy disappears. A modern world is revealed which may be as disappointing and disturbing as an overpriced meal in a high class restaurant.
The book is a good one for book clubs. There is a lot to discuss about the nature of evil and to what extent parents are responsible for the acts of their children. A reviewer from The Guardian said the book will appeal to those “who enjoy seeing what happens when the cosy certainties of middle-class families are shattered, when the thin facades of decency and manners are wrenched aside, showing the brutal, violent creatures that lurk beneath the surface.” Now there is some food for thought.