Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Dinner

Title:  The Dinner
Author:  Herman Koch
Publication Information:  Hogarth, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2012. 248 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on reading the publicity for it.

Favorite Quote:  "If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this:  happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn't have to be validated. '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 is that unhappy families .... 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."

The Dinner takes place over the course of one evening - one dinner shared among two couples. Serge and Babette. Paul and Claire. Over the course of the dinner, much is revealed about the dynamics of the two couples and about the relationship of brothers Serge and Paul. Both couples have children, and the dinner revolves around an event involving their fifteen year old sons.

The book is written as a first person narrative with Paul as the narrator. The setting is Amsterdam. The central issue is that the two couples' sons have committed a senseless act that has serious legal ramifications. The two couples differ in their approach to this issue. For the bulk of the book, they dance around the issue and parry back and forth over the dinner.

The conversation brings out serious issues in the relationships between the two brothers. One suffers from mental illness that causes violent bursts of temper. The other is submerged in political machinations and election maneuverings. The two wives bring their own perspectives and agendas.

I found the book disturbing and difficult to read. The characters are not likable. The parental approach to the trouble the boys have caused is disturbing. The first person narrative makes the book more difficult; perhaps, a different perspective or different narrators might have added more depth to the story. Overall, this is one dinner I wish I had skipped.

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