Monday, March 18, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

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.
This insomniac's opinion:
I read this novel after my dear friend Kris, a.k.a. the book fairy, gifted the members of my book posse(no, you didn't misread- we are a posse, not a club!) and I with copies of this novel so that we all could discuss it. I pushed it towards the top of my to-read list, because usually if Kris recommends it, I will love it, too. You can read her review of this novel here.
About a quarter of the way through the book I get the sinking feeling in my stomach that can only mean one thing- I am not going to like the book that my friend loves and gave me, and now I'm going to have to tell her that. The good news is- she still loves me! Phew- bullet dodged.
Okay, back to the novel. There were things  that I both liked and hated about this novel. In fact, when reading this review it may sound as though I have multiple personalities. I just can't seem to get all of my feelings in one place regarding this book. I am also going to do my best to not giveaway any of the twists in the novel, but I will say that there are multiple horrific acts.
 To start, I must say that while this is often compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, it is not even in the same ballpark. Using the ballpark metaphor, it is very much like comparing little league baseball to major league baseball(Flynn obviously being the major leaguer). While the somber, bleak tone and presence of psychopaths is similar- this just didn't pack the same punch or have the same wow-factor as a Flynn novel. Another similarity with a Flynn novel is that, by the end, not a single, solitary character is likeable. Unlike Gone Girl, this author lacked the ability to make us like them first and then shock us with the truth of their character. I liked that the novel was unlike any other that I have read, but struggled with the very slow pace. Also, I'm not sure if I have ever said this before, but the book was far too descriptive. One scene, in particular, was a bathroom scene in which another man's *ahem* manly parts were described in great detail. I'm still quite unsure what that had to do with anything at all pertaining to the plot.  I loved the fact that I was surprised by the plot twists. I was horrified by the fact that no one, anywhere at all among the terrifying actions of the novel, seemed to have even a sliver of a conscience.  As a nurse who has worked with numerous trauma victims, I know that these psychopaths exist. So, maybe what was most offensive to me about this novel is that these horrible things happen and maybe, just maybe, somewhere in the world someone is casually discussing them over dinner.
*So, I just read the above paragraph and realize that it does, indeed, sound like it was written by two separate people. Sorry about that. I wasn't lying when I said I was conflicted by this novel!*
Worth staying up all night to read?
I simply can't recommend this book, but I do know that others have loved it. It is a bit scary for night reading for me, as well(I do like to sleep at some point in the night).
Rating: 3 stars -  I can see why others are talking about this novel, but it just wasn't for me.

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