Monday, August 13, 2018

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Reviewed by Kristin

Serge Lohman is a name known throughout the Netherlands; he’s destined to be the next prime minister, after all.  He’s a man of the people, a pillar of the community, liked and admired by all.  Well, by almost all.

Paul Lohman has always felt a tension between himself and his big brother Serge.  You can hear the distaste in his voice as he draws out his brother’s name:   S e r g e.  Serge, with his perfect wife Babette and his three children, including one adopted from Africa.  Serge, who can call an exclusive restaurant to reserve a table for that night, when anyone else would need to call months in advance.  Serge, who thinks he always, always, knows best.

Paul and Claire agreed to meet Serge and Babette for dinner to discuss an incident involving their teenage sons—a very serious incident.  Paul and Claire have always given their son Michel quite a bit of freedom, but are also fiercely protective of him.  Serge and Babette feel the same way about Rick, as well as their adopted son Beau.  As the teenagers were walking home from an evening out, they encountered a situation and took actions which could impact their lives forever.

The Dinner begins with a slow burn.  Tensions are hinted at, but not fully revealed by Paul in the narrator’s voice.  Paul’s impatience with Serge; his concern for his wife, his sister-in-law, his son; all become apparent as the meal goes on.  The characters are multi-faceted and revealed one layer at a time as past happenings are woven into the story along with the current troubles.

Dark secrets emerge and all is not as it appears.  As the story goes on, the reader begins to wonder who to like, who to have sympathies for, and who to hate.  Questions of inherent good or evil and nature versus nurture arise.  The disturbing undertones running throughout the plot begin to come to the light, but perhaps not entirely.  Readers expecting a fully resolved solution may not be satisfied, but those who enjoy a convoluted plot which keeps you guessing will enjoy this novel.

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