The Dinner

The Dinner - Herman Koch, Sam Garrett

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.

 

The Dinner was a disappointment. I had been looking forward to reading this novel for several months, it just sounded so creepy that I was sure I was going to get sucked into it like I got sucked into Night Film.

 

I think that The Dinner failed on three levels. It failed to engage, there were no sympathetic characters and it dragged.

 

For me to truly enjoy a book, any book...I need to feel as though I am in the story, either as an observer or an active participant. To do this, I need to be able to "see" what's going on. I need details, even if they are minor. I need to know back stories. Herman Koch is a coy story teller. He purposely leaves out identifying landmarks, details about the character's back stories. The audience is held at an arms length, and so I stayed impartial. At first I tried to fill in those details, in an attempt to get into the story...but after awhile I gave up. By the time I reached the end and the big reveal...I just did not care.

 

Another way for me to enjoy a story, is to give me a character to root for. I don't have to like that character, but despite their flaws and unlikable qualities...there still needs to be a reason to want that character to succeed (even if they succeed in failing). There were no such characters in The Dinner. They were bland or plain did not have any redeeming qualities. I wanted to like them, or love to hate them...but I just couldn't find myself caring a about them one way or another. 

 

Finally, the story itself dragged. For a writer who was so coy about leaving out identifying details, this story took it's sweet time getting to the climax. By the time I got to the climax  I just could not muster up the proper feelings to be shocked or horrified. I could only ask myself whether I was suppose to care.

 

While writing this review, I debated with myself whether to give this book two or three stars. My first reaction was to give this three stars, as on the surface, it seemed like a decent book. I've read some truly dreadful books that I normally reserve one or two stars for...but as I wrote this review and realized just how far connected I felt...I realized that although on a technical level this was a solid three star read...however, on a personal level it failed so just could not justify giving it three stars.