Everybody loves an unreliable narrator and Dutch author Herman Koch has come up with a doozy in his sixth novel, The Dinner. The narrator in this case is Paul Lohman, an unemployed high school teacher with an unnamed malady – and a chip on his shoulder. He’s jealous of his more successful brother, who is poised to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands, and he’s got a secret that threatens to destroy both their families. Over a meal at one of Amsterdam’s swankier restaurants, the two brothers and their wives meet to discuss their options. On the menu is a heaping helping of food for thought.
At first it seems the dinner will be innocuous enough, with the narrator ridiculing the pretentiousness of the waiters and wryly commenting on his surroundings as each course is served and each ingredient is elaborated, but just as everyone gets comfortable, Koch changes the tone, and the glib observations give way to serious discussion. What are the two couples going to do about their teenage sons and the awful deed they’ve committed? Not only will the boys’ futures be affected, but their parents will be ruined as well – and in more ways than one. This is where readers are offered the real meat of the story and the moral quandary sets in when they are faced with the decision of which side to take. As Koch shows us, however, they might want to wait till dessert is served before making up their minds.
Born in 1953, Herman Koch is a Dutch actor and author who has written short stories, novels, and columns. His best-selling novel The Dinner was released in 2009 and sold over a million copies before it made its way across the pond, where many have called it a “European Gone Girl.” It has been translated into 21 languages and the recent English version was done by Sam Garrett.
Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth; Reprint Edition, 2013