The Dinner by Herman Koch is a thriller of the nastiest kind.
The story is narrated by Paul Lohman over the course of an evening, while he and his wife Claire have dinner with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette, at a ridiculously fancy and expensive restaurant.
Paul knows in advance that everything Serge says and does during the evening will infuriate him. At first this appears to be the usual case of sibling rivalry. Serge is a politician who is in the running to be the Netherlands next Prime Minister, while Paul is a former high school history teacher, who has not worked in ten years because of his anger management issues.
However, despite Paul wishing he were anywhere else, the two couples have agreed to meet for dinner to discuss a secret. Their teenage sons have committed a crime, which is so far only known to themselves.
I can understand Paul and Claire wanting to protect their son. But what Michel has done is not something that he or Rick should be protected from facing the consequences of, but the lack of humanity in the characters in this novel is frightening. The actions of the characters does not even compare to the type of people they are though, what they are capable of and how undetectable sociopaths are from other people in society.
At times the words were stilted. I’m not going to criticise the story for this, because the edition I read had been translated from Dutch to English, but I believe The Dinner would read better in the original language. I found the first half of the story, Aperitif and Appetizer slow (and the food itself disappointing), but by the time I got to the Main Course and Dessert of The Dinner I couldn’t read quickly enough to find out how things would work out.
The Dinner left me feeling uncomfortable. I would go back for another serving from this author though.