Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Two WASPy couples go out to dinner at a ridiculously fancy restaurant, where each meal has its own pedigree. Serge is a politician and Babette is his hot wife. Paul is Serge's brother, and he is married to an intellectual and demure-seeming woman named Claire. Both of them have children, and their children have done something terrible. As they eat their ridiculously pretentious meals and drink their ridiculously pretentious wine, they banter, circling each other as if in a dance-- or a duel. Because when the curtains go down, the claws come out.

I'm always bemused by what Goodreads declares "good." If you look at the ratings for this book, they're pretty dismal. I can only assume that people took issue with the fact that literally everyone in this book is awful. There's no one to root for: everyone is bad. I guess if you read books and want to like the characters, it makes sense why you wouldn't like this. I personally found it fascinating. It reminded me of this other book I read recently, called RABBITS FOR FOOD: it's social commentary masquerading as a comedy of manners masquerading as a train wreck.

Paul was a really compelling narrator. The descriptions of the food, and how it was unpleasant and unpalatable, mirrored the social interactions of the couples. Everything seems great on the surface, but you just know there's something sour and rotten lurking underneath. That's exactly how this book was: it was like peeling the skin of an apple back to find everything is bruised and brown, and the more you peel, the more rotten the apple is, until at the very core of it you find a mutant worm. You know that something isn't quite right with Paul, that he's hiding something, but you aren't sure what. It fills you with dread-- you have to know-- and then at the end, Koch pulls a sleight of hand trick.

The end of this book is not nearly as good as the beginning. If it were, this book would be five stars, easy. It doesn't quite jump the shark, but you can tell it was thinking hard about doing so. The grand reveal was just a little anticlimactic and disappointing-- especially with the rave review on the back comparing this to GONE GIRL. No, GONE GIRL this is not. It's got the same gleeful, voyeuristic sociopathy of GONE GIRL, but lacks that careful planning and finesse.

Still; if you enjoy dark books and family dramas, I think you will enjoy THE DINNER.

4 out of 5 stars

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