“The first thing that struck you about Claire’s plate was its vast emptiness. Of course, I’m well aware that, in the better restaurants, quality takes precedence over quantity, but you have voids and then you have voids. The void here, that part of the plate on which no food at all was present, had clearly been raised to a matter of principal.” (The Dinner by Herman Koch)
If you, too, have been craving subtly creepy, slightly shocking stories told with excellent skill and attention to language, you couldn’t do better than follow up whatever literary psychological thriller you just read with The Dinner. You’ll be lead through a four course meal by the incredibly unreliable narrator, Mr. Lohman, as he negotiates a ‘small’ family problem with his brother. As Mr. Lohman captures the reader’s trust with sly jabs at the upper-class and witty complaints, he slowly reveals his own history and the real trouble in his family. The real question becomes not whether the narrator is unreliable, but how it is possible for anyone to have developed such a complacent, twisted view of himself and his situation.
A review of this book in the NYT stated that ‘the most disturbing thing about this book is how meaningless it turns out to be’ or something of the sort. I partially read the book to figure out what on earth that conclusion could mean; unfortunately, I’m still no closer to an answer. Part of my job is reading through tons of reviews of fiction, and sometimes I feel as though they seek to create a tone or pattern instead of saying anything true about the work. Intelligent ones compare the author to other obscure, modern authors, compliment the author’s language paradigm by quoting specific passages, and then, unfailingly, criticize the book in the last paragraph in order to prove that no work is perfect. Personally, I would say that the ‘meaning’ of this book comes in reflecting on how we each recreate the stories of our lives for ourselves, etc, etc. If you’ve read it – would you say that it is ultimately meaningless?
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Length: 304 pages
Ending: open to interpretation; haunting
Further Reading: an excellent follow-up to Familiar by Lennon