Book Review: ‘The Dinner’ by Herman Koch

Posted: February 12, 2013 in Books of the Month, Other Writing by AJ Kirby, Writing Talk

Seeing as though I’ve already named two ‘books of the month’, it seems a bit rich to add another… But I just had to mention Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which has just been published, and which I’ve reviewed for The New York Journal of Books. Top read. Very sinister, and, at times, quite hard to swallow!

Screenshot Koch The Dinner ReviewYou can read the full review here.

And here’s a few highlights:

“It would be maddeningly easy to begin my review of Herman Koch’s The Dinner like this:

Take a pinch of intrigue, sprinkle in some sibling rivalry, spice with tension. Mix well. Then let the concoction simmer and stew for a while, before serving with a side order of violence, and you have a recipe for a riveting read.

And I was seriously tempted to do so, for the simple reason that such blatant cliché would be bound to get up the nose of author Koch’s protagonist/narrator, Paul Lohman. For Paul is a man waging war on cliché, driven wild by the hypocrisy of modern life and to the edges of madness by his hatred of “performance.”

The Dinner CoverAnd getting up Paul Lohman’s nose has one sure-fire result in The Dinner: There will be fireworks. Broken crockery. Overturned plates. A dinner spoiled.

Because in essence that’s what we yearn for as readers. The premise of this novel—two well-to-do families meet at an exclusive restaurant on an idyllic evening in cosmopolitan Amsterdam—is all well and good.

But we don’t want to get our teeth into some placid fable, we want to read of conflict, of hairs in the soup. We want to hear that terrible false note in the awkward silence as one diner scrapes his knife on the plate.

As Paul observes: “tornados, hurricanes, and tsunamis have a soothing effect. Of course it’s terrible—we’ve all been taught to say that we think it’s terrible. But a world without disasters and violence—be it the violence of nature or that of muscle and blood—would be the truly unbearable thing.”

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