I’m going to have to reread The Dinner by Herman Koch. Reading it the first time was compulsive – I stopped reading every word because I simply needed to know what happened on the next page and the next chapter. And now that I’m finished, I need to ask a favor of you: I need you to read this book. Because I want to talk about it with you. Because it made me really, really mad. It also left me with several questions that the author just didn’t answer. Or perhaps, in my compulsive reading, I missed those answers. In any case, I’m going to have to read it again, as soon as I can stomach another reading.
Here’s the story: Two couples meet for dinner in Amsterdam one evening. One of the men is expected to become the next prime minister. The book is narrated (however unreliably) by his brother. The story is broken up into sections based on the parts of a meal, and as we progress through the meal, we start to see the real reason for the couples’ meeting. They have come together to discuss something their children have done. And how the children’s actions will affect themselves, their parents, even the country.
The author is incredibly adept at revealing the barest minimum at key points in the story, just enough to make you a bit uneasy. I started out sympathizing with the narrator, who for the first several chapters inwardly rolls his eyes at his brother’s substantial ego and the posturing in which he so readily engages. But then the real story emerges, which I will not share with you here. The beauty of this book lies in the author’s ability to peel back the story, one layer at a time. However, this is not by any stretch of the imagination a comforting read. You will not put this book down and think the world is a better place or that human beings have evolved over time. At least I didn’t, but it does force you to consider what it means to be a parent, how accountable people are for their actions, and how people can delude themselves into believing they are happy.
This, I’m sure, will make many a book club reading list. I’ve added it to our own book club list at the library. So I encourage you to read it. It should make for some good conversation at dinner, at the very least. But let’s hope your dinner ends differently than the one Koch envisioned.