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{February 8, 2013}   {ARC Review} The Dinner by Herman Koch

15797938From Goodreads: An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal.

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.

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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Herman Koch’s The Dinner originally released in Holland in 2009 and has finally made its way to the United States after much critical acclaim.  And what a great novel it is!

This is the story of one family’s response to the havoc their children have wrought, and how they choose to deal with it.  It’s a novel of mystery and suspense, while at the same time making a satiric social commentary on parenting and the fusses of high end living.  The novel follows Paul, the father of one of the young men of questionable behavior, as he sets out to dinner with his wife to meet his brother and sister-in-law at a rather upscale restaurant.  It is evident, from the very beginning, that Paul’s relationship with his brother is quite estranged and that they don’t see eye to eye, but it isn’t until the couples meet that the reader begins to see just how different the two families really are.

I was nervous going into the story as I didn’t know how a novel could possibly have depth or keep my interest if it only covered one meal.  Thinking of my own conversations around the dinner table, and how drab they can be, I was worried that The Dinner might not hold my attention.  It did.  What Koch has done is interspersed flashbacks along with bathroom and meal breaks in order to alleviate what would have otherwise been monotonous chitchat.  Paul finds many an excuse to leave the table, and it is at these points that the real issues, those of the children, begin to take the forefront, especially once Paul realizes he has his son’s phone.

Tensions are high throughout dinner, and though it takes time for the truth of the children’s misdeeds to hit the light, Koch does it in such a way that the reader is captivated throughout the meal, slowly putting together the pieces of the puzzle as Paul attempts to figure out what to do next.  Alongside Paul, we are thrust into the men’s bathroom, we hide alongside the restaurant, we read texts and delete messages, we watch videos we ought not to see, all to figure out exactly what he knows that he isn’t telling us. I really enjoyed being inside Paul’s head, even though I didn’t know everything up front, and Koch does a phenomenal job keeping reader interest throughout it all.

The end, in all honesty, completely floored me; this novel is definitely food for thought, a great conversational piece, as it were.  It was exactly what I didn’t expect, and the fact that Koch chose to end it this way left me speechless.  I’ve been dying to discuss it with someone, but none of my friends have read it, yet, and so I will continue to wait.  Five stars.

4 stars

Crown Publishing Group has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to it’s USA release on February 12, 2013.

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I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since I heard about it in the blogosphere. The premise fascinates me as I enjoy reading about family and community relationships/dynamics.

The writing style and setting is also unique. It would have been interesting to read each chapter from alternating POV’s of the characters(some of my favorite authors write in this style). I recently finished Gone, Girl, also written from alternating viewpoints, and LOVED it, except for the ending.



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