Even though I'm a voracious reader, I'm often completely unaware of best sellers. I was browsing through Vromans prior to my Europe trip and I came across Herman Koch's international best seller ( published in twenty-five countries and made into a movie) The Dinner. Intrigued by the cover, premise and teasing blurb by author Gillian Flynn, I decided to buy it for my vacation.
The brilliance in Koch's thriller is the reveal. It's a slow build, but he is constantly dropping hints along the way. The story is told in sections that follow a real time formal dinner, with pieces of the story revealed through flashbacks.
Two couples meet for dinner in an upscale restaurant in Amsterdam. On the surface, everything appears perfect, but there is tension bubbling and there is a topic that must be discussed before the evening ends. The two couples, a pair of brothers and their wives, have sons who have committed a horrific crime and the adults must figure out how to handle the situation.
At first, I thought this story was going to be similar to the Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage, where two sets of parents meet after their children get into a school yard fight. Although The Dinner touches on themes of diversity in parenting ideas, it goes much deeper and looks into the lengths a parent will go to protect their off-spring, even when it goes against the good of society. At the heart of the story is the concept of nature vs. nurture and bonds of blood family.
The Dinner is dark and not for the easily offended. It is a violent, graphic story. What I appreciated the most about Koch's story, was his refusal to take sides or to give a clear solution. His story is an assault and it forces the reader to really think about weighty moral issues. This is truly a great pick for a book club, as the discussion points are endless. I kept mentioning the story to my husband, wishing he had read it, so that we could really talk about it. It will stick with you.
So brilliantly done, is the way that Koch reveals his unreliable narrator. The writing is a slick manipulation. I couldn't help but marvel as I realized Koch's skillful writing had fooled me into judgement against certain characters. I don't want to be too specific in this review, as the reading of this story was an experience that shouldn't be spoiled.
I was slightly disappointed with the ending, which went a direction that I had not anticipated and which I felt, ended on a downbeat.
I have one suggestion for would-be readers...try to get through the novel quickly and without distractions. I read it in small chunks during a family vacation and it really killed the pacing of the story.
I was left feeling very excited to read other books by Koch. The Dinner was a great find and I look forward to seeing the movie adaptation. This would also make a great stage play and I hope someone has taken on that project.