"The Dinner" takes place during dinner at a fashionable restaurant, and is centered around a meeting between two brothers and their wives. Each couple has a 15-year-old son, and the pair of cousins have gotten into trouble together.
The two families at dinner are Paul Lohman and his brother Serge. Paul, the novel's narrator, is a former history teacher who has recently been laid off. Serge Lohman is a popular politician with great ambition. Paul is resentful of his brother, as well as the choice to dine at such a pretentious restaurant.
The book doesn't have chapters, it is instead broken into courses. As the dinner progresses, more and more of the past comes out between the brothers. Throughout the meal, writer Herman Koch slowly reveals details and issues that make the drama between the brothers grow even more intense.
It turns out there are not only issues with their teenage sons, but also growing issues from the past that begin to bubble to the surface. Long-hidden dissatisfaction and frustration slowly seep into the conversation at first, and then they begin to pour forth.
From the aperitif and appetizer, Paul discusses his judgment of his brother as fake and sexist. Paul seems to care little about his brother at the beginning, and his resentment is evident. It is hard, at least at the beginning, not to understand his point of view, though.
As dinner continues, you begin to see just what family means to each of the brothers. This includes both their sibling relationship and the families they have built with their wives. Paul, particularly, cherishes his son Michel and his wife Claire. He struggles, however, with anger management although he is self-aware enough to recognize the issues this can cause.
Herman Koch is a Dutch writer who is known for his short stories and novels, as well as his acting work on shows such as Borát and Jiskefet. The Dinner: A Novel was his sixth novel, released in 2009. As of 2013, it has sold more than one million copies in Europe and has been translated into more than 20 languages.
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 shows 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.
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