CBR-V Review #38: The Dinner by Herman Koch

I’d heard some buzz about this book on a couple of book-related blogs, and then my dad came home from a business trip gushing over it and told me he’d read the whole thing on a plane ride. I immediately got it at the library and finished it within a few hours–it’s that good.

The narrator of The Dinner is Paul, a seemingly typical middle-class man out to dinner with his wealthy brother (a rising star in the Netherlands’ political scene), and their respective wives. Their sons are connected by a dark and violent secret, one that brings the two couples together for dinner: the goal of the evening is to discuss what happened and to decide what to do. Paul peels back the layers of deception and denial surrounding the situation over the course of the evening, . Cleverly, the action is broken up according to course/phase of the meal, starting with the aperitif, ending with the tip. Of course, flashbacks and inner monologue are used extensively to flesh out the real-time action.

This is a fast, exciting read in the same vein as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl–a sharp, smart and extremely dark thriller that keeps you guessing and is (as cliché as it sounds) impossible to put down. It’s not a mystery, exactly, but it’s certainly shocking and intense in its own way, with plenty of secrets being revealed along the way. It’s hard to discuss it too much without giving away the plot, but suffice to say that it’s very well-structured and feels like a new (and noteworthy) addition to the genre. It’s not particularly deep, but I think it does delve into human nature and the shades of grey of morality in an interesting way.

I also really enjoyed Koch’s use of an unreliable narrator in Paul–I love a good unreliable narrator, as I find they make stories automatically much more complex and interesting. Figuring out “the truth” sort of becomes the goal, and it’s fun to compare the narrator’s version of events with the objective reality (or as close to it as you can come) based on information gleaned by actions and attitudes of other characters. This book was particularly satisfying in that regard, and it becomes immensely entertaining–and horrifying–to see the hidden layers of self-denial and complicity in Paul’s character.

Overall, this is a really enjoyable book that gets into your head and keeps you on your toes. If you like dark thrillers, this is an obvious choice for you.

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