The Dinner by Herman Koch (3 out of 5)


I started this one several times in the last six months, but something dumb called life always came along and sent me out to a pasture where books were not allowed. This was no exception; except that I was able to finally sit down and read it last week. It then took me a week to get the mental train cars back on the track; but alas, here we are. And I enjoyed this book quite a bit.

Two brothers have gotten themselves into some nasty business… one brother has some sort of mental illness that is only mentioned in a vague sense and manifests itself in wild mood swings and violent outbursts, the other brother is a stick-in-the-mud politician who may be the next PM (Prime Minister). The brothers and their wives are meeting up for a dinner to discuss the situation. It turns into quite the dinner, as anyone can guess from the book title. You get a lot of angles of parenting in today’s world, and I found that fascinating. The parents and the differences of the two boys go a long way toward the buying the dinner premise as the entire book. What happened? That whole story is entirely believable, given the personalities involved and the circumstances. Everyone knows a bad boy or two, but really, how many of those bad boys could you see pulling off what these two did? Not too many, at least not in my recollection of youth. The rivalry between the two brothers now carries over to how they treat their children, and how their children treat people and each other, and you witness the domino effect in full form. I really appreciated the thoroughness of that dynamic as well. I like the two brothers as characters also. The wives are pretty much window dressing to me. There are parts of the dinner where I was hoping one of them would choke on the chicken for dinner. Mean? Yes, but read it and then we’ll discuss your thoughts on that character. The whole of the novel has a satirical feel to it, and if you know me, you know I’m a fan of satire, especially in the written form.

Now what I didn’t like was how long it took for the real big reveals to be, well, revealed. When certain pertinent facts come out, there’s a tendency to trample them underfoot like a stray dog turd for the better part of many pages. When your novel is built around one dinner with a lot of whodunits, what the fucks, and whys, the last thing you want is a turd of dialogue about something that just came out. If this was a 1,000 page Ken Follett novel, I would understand that, but this isn’t the case here, so in this case, it annoyed me quite a bit. There’s a lot of deep thoughts going on, minus the awesomeness that is Jack Handy (if you have no idea what I speak of- shame on you!). Those deep thoughts, like the big reveals lagging on like a bad Oprah book club pick, sink the boat of interest into the harbor of boredom. I was easily able to set the book down and yawn my way through a lot of it after one of these big paragraph stormings took place. There isn’t enough of it for me to lob anything more than a star off the review rating, but those philosophical musings on top of the secrets being let out of the bag in a lengthy and unnecessary way, really suck it out of the novel. “IT”. Not like the killer clown, but close.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. The story, the brothers, the laying out of the layers and the end result, were punchy, caustically humorous at parts, and overall, a very good read. The Aristotle speak is what sunk it, ultimately. If they replaced those passages with punchy wit between the brothers, the wives, the kids, and their parents, well, it could have been The Royal Tennenbaums in printed word. Not to be, but still a pretty good book.


~ by generationgbooks on September 12, 2013.

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