Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Dinner - Herman Koch

There is much to recommend about this book. Let me start with that. Then, let me tell you that this book left an ache in my heart and a sour taste in my mouth. I so wanted the story to end with satisfaction that all parties had 'done the right thing' - but they didn't. And in that about face taken within Herman Koch's searing story line, I was left with questions about the state of the 'class structure' in today's world, about parenting and what we parents will do to protect our kids, about honesty and trust within marital relationships, about the ethics of money and just what it will buy, about dispensible morals and our willingness to rationalize all sorts of bad behavior in ourselves and our loved ones. 

Mr. Koch poked a sharp stick at the innards of our social conscience when he wrote this story. Several chapters into the book, I was thinking of several high profile crimes that have piqued world-wide curiosity and thought, "Oh, he is taking inspiration from those cases." Making the connection between the disappearance of a young American high school student in Aruba, the brutal death of an English student in Italy, and the brutal beating of an elderly man on the streets of New York, I was still shocked at the callous and haunting crime that is at the center of the parents' confrontation in The Dinner

Koch's development of the characters around the dinner table is masterful. The novel is narrated by Paul Lohman, a high school history teacher on leave for erratic behavior toward students and lesson presentation. He and his wife, Claire have a fifteen year old named Michel. Paul has a no nonsense form of delivery, a sharp sense of humor that is laced with sarcasm, social irony, and a bit of a bitter sense of social cynicism. So, it's with this 'voice' that the story unfolds and it's through the lens of Paul's character that we begin to form opinions about  Paul's wife and son, his brother, Serge and Serge's wife and children, the people in the restaurant they are visiting, and the various other characters that Paul discusses. 

No spoilers, but things are not what they seem ...

This would be such a good book for a book group discussion, as there are so many issues that Koch throws at the reader. I wish I would happen on an on-line discussion ... any takers?


  1. When I read a troubling book, I want to sit down with the author for an afternoon. Do you feel the same way? My spirit is pretty ruffled just watching the news. I'll pass on this one.

  2. Another interesting book review, Susan. You certainly are a voracious reader - to say nothing of your other interests and talents.

  3. "Buch Handling" has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

  4. I have to be honest. Although, definitely interesting and worth discussion, I didn't like this book. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and a sour stain on my spirit. I think it was because there is no redemption, no sustaining sense of hope. The questions it raises are valid, important ones, but at the end, my plate was empty.

    1. I know what you mean about feeling like being let down and disillusioned at the end ... my heart sank when those words, 'Dear old Dad' were uttered ... none the less, I felt like the sharp satire of Koch served well to make us feel creeped out and angry that there are such people in this world that will look the other way and ignore great injustices, make excuses for their bad behavior, and buy their way out of uncomfortable situations with not a look back at whatever damage they leave in their wake ... ugh. An uncomfortable read, but a worthy one, I thought. I WILL be reading something much lighter next, though!