Monday, February 18, 2013

ARC ReView of THE DINNER by Herman Koch

   European / Dutch Literature; Mystery/Crime -  304 pages
Hogarth (first published in 2013)

" On a Summer evening in Amsterdam, two couples meet a fashionable restaurant for dinner.  At first, the conversation is a gentle hum of small talk - the banality of work, the latest movies they've seen.  But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened."  Who knew a dinner can be this thrilling.  I was so excited to pick up this book once I read the above summary of the book.


How far are we willing to go for those we love?

This is one of the most unexpected novels I have laid my eyes on thus far.  The narrator, first of all, is a lot to talk about, let alone the characters themselves.  The narrator is very deceiving in portraying the impression on the reader. You'll see what I mean when you read it.

The book moves forward in a very odd tone.  The conversation at the dinner goes from really mundane, to really sub-textual, to really r-e-a-l.  The act committed by the two couple's sons leaves you jaw-dropped.  While the whole dinner evolves, you're left to wonder.  Don't all families have their own skeleton problems?  And what how can we enlighten our children about the fine line between 'pranks' and a crime.  Then there the parent's wish to protect their children, and how do parents really do it?  Can they really protect their children?  Ultimately, whether they want to or not, they will have to weight the consequences of the child and be there to make sure it all turns out alright, as much as they can.  

There is a quote at the beginning of the book that you'll have to pay attention to, that I thought carried me through the book.  I kept coming back over and over again and thinking how powerful it was to read it before I uncovered the catrostophic implications between these two families.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is the opening sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  All I could hope to add to that is that unhappy families - and within those families, in particular the unhappy husband and wife - can never get by on their own.  The more validators, the merrier.  Unhappiness loves company.  Unhappiness can't stand silence - especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone."

Surprisingly, enough, it is in the face of tragic that we can examine family dynamics at its most micro elements.   That's what this book is.  It will take you on a ride, definitely.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good story, an intelligent piece of writing, and something you'll think about further in your own life after you've read it.





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