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Dinner is served
The Dinner - Herman Koch
Member Name: wigglylittleworm
The Dinner - Herman Koch
Advantages: great story with loads of moral dilemmas to think about
Disadvantages: story gets a bit muddled at one point
A horrific and violent crime is committed which has the whole of Holland shocked at the senseless brutality involved. The crime was caught on CCTV and shown on TV but the teenage perpetrators were unidentifiable on the grainy film wearing hoodies which disguised them. Paul Lohman is shaken when he discovers that one of the teenage thugs is his own son Michel and his cousin Rick is his sidekick. Paul and his wife Claire arrange to meet with Paul's brother Serge and his wife Babette for dinner in a swanky restaurant in order to discuss what course of action to take. Would you protect your child if they had committed an atrocity or would you make them face the consequences of their actions?
The story of the Loham family comes out over the course of the dinner; each course focusing on another part of the tale. This is a family with some issues' Paul has been placed on leave from his job as a teacher following a breakdown and is hostile towards his brother, the successful politician and minor celebrity Serge finding him shallow and flash. Serge has built his reputation as a family man who is admired for adopting Beau from Africa and this incident becoming public could ruin his chances at the upcoming election. The marriage between Serge and Babette is also under strain and this incident only seeks to highlight the divisions in the family.
I loved the way that the act which triggered the dinner was revealed slowly, allowing the tension in the story to build. It is a truly gruesome act of violence which will make your stomach churn with its awfulness. The reader learns about Michel's upbringing and early life and I certainly wondered how a seemingly normal little boy could grow up into such a callous teenager. He had a normal and loving upbringing, was it the fact that his parents doted on him so much that caused his descent into violence? There is a chance he may have inherited some rogue gene, is it this to blame? How much responsibility do the parents have for the acts of their almost grown up children?
There are many more moral dilemmas for the reader to ponder during the course of the book. Is the love for an adopted child equal to that of your biological offspring or do the parental instincts to protect not kick in to the same extent when the child is not genetically related to you. If you have to make a choice between saving only one of your children what one do you choose? I will admit that I did not always like the conclusions that the author came to and found most of the characters dislikeable and had little sympathy with their plight.
The Dinner could have been a very dark book but luckily there was a heavy injection of very dark humour from Paul's mutterings. When he was describing the pretentious waiter and overpriced food in the posh restaurant or ranting about his brother Serge the text was hilarious and brought a wry smile to my face.
I really enjoyed The Dinner, it is a clever and multi layered little story which made me think, made me smile and also had me shouting in frustration at some of the character's actions. It has become a best seller across Europe after being translated from its original Dutch and it is easy to see why. It is not a perfect book, I thought it lost its way briefly at one point but it recovered. There are one or two instances of odd translation from Dutch into English which left me momentarily puzzled but the majority of the book was extremely readable. It is also a book which I may well choose when it is my turn to host my bookclub since I can see it sparking lots of very heated discussions.
Summary: really good read