The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman KochThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Published by Hogarth on February 12, 2013
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 304
Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.
IndieBoundBarnes & Noble

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. 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.     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.


Let’s start with a quick look back at the notes I jotted down while reading The Dinner:

page 50: Nice writing. Slowly setting me up for something, I can tell… but enjoying it.

page 90: Okay, okay, I get it, Paul. Yeesh. You’re super jealous of your (admittedly irritating) brother and it kind of consumes you.

page 107: Seriously, is anything going to actually happen in this book?

page 110: Whoa! Annnd the answer would be yes, something happens.

page 116: Huh. Paul is actually kind of a jerk in his own way…

And from there to the very end, it became this wild and crazy and twisted ride. Lots of messed up rationalization going on that made for cutting social commentary. This story unfolds slowly, but once things start rolling it is psychologically fascinating and absolutely gripping (Jen from The Relentless Reader perfectly describes it as a “slow burn”). And even when you’ve figured something out, when your suspicion is finally confirmed Herman Koch still manages to punch you in the gut!

This is the kind of book you want to discuss with anyone and everyone who’s read it. It’d be a great pick for book clubs, especially when you need something on the shorter side.

Speaking of talking about this book, we’ll be discussing this one on The Socratic Salon later next month. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s plenty of time: It’d be a great choice for Dewey’s Readathon this weekend!

  • Monika, it’s been awhile since I’ve read this one, but I’ll definitely try to chime in! Koch has an interesting way with his readers…I love it. I read his most recent, Summer House With Swimming Pool, last summer and I really enjoyed that one, as well; you’ll have to check it out! I may have even liked it more…

  • I’m picking this one up as soon as I finish my current book – looking forward to the Socratic discussion, which finally gave me a reason to choose this one from my never ending TBR list. I glad to know I need to hang in there 🙂

  • I made my brother read this and out of the blue he texted me weeks later with “Paul and Claire are sociopaths eh?” Took me a while to figure out who these people were he was referring to! I’ve actually read it twice now -the only modern book in recent memory to get that treatment – and the second time I was way more disturbed by it. I can’t WAIT to discuss this on The Socratic Salon!

  • Read this one for my book club and it fueled quite a provocative (and widely varying) array of discussion topics. Can’t wait for the Socratic Salon discussion!

  • This has been on my list for FOREVER! How do you think it would be on audio?

  • Darlene O.

    I was soooo with you on page 90! I thought if Paul didn’t stop whining and griping about his brother I was going to….I don’t know, give up. I remember messaging April and asking her something like just how long did I have to endure that?? I just wanted to get on with the menu and the actual story. Then, WHOA! I’ll save further comments for The Socatic Salon discussion.

  • Awesome! As soon as you started describing this, I was hoping it would be a Socratic Salon discussion. I’ll try to get it read in time 🙂

  • Love this book SO. MUCH. Will also be re-reading for discussion. 🙂

  • Oooh! I love this book and am so thrilled that it will be on TSS. I just finished his other book, Summer House with Swimming Pool (review soon) and I liked it even better!

  • I have a copy of this on my shelf; I need to try to squeeze it in before the Socratic Salon discussion!

  • I remember seeing this book a lot some time ago. I’ve never read it though, but I think I have it on my bookshelf.