I have finished the eighteenth book for the book challenge. It is The Dinner by Herman Koch, a Dutch author.
This was an interesting concept for a book, which is set as a dinner in a very posh, up-scale restaurant in Holland with two brothers and their wives. It is told through the words of one brother, Paul Lohman, a former high school history teacher. He is at dinner with his wife Claire; his brother Serge, candidate for prime minister of Holland; and his wife, Babette. The book is divided into the various courses served at the dinner and through a series of flash-backs, we are taken through the history of a troubled incident that involved Paul and Claire’s son Michel and Serge and Babette’s son Rick and a homeless woman at an ATM machine a few months previous. This incident has been seen in national media and has caused a national uproar, but the boys have not been identified.
We also learn, through the flash-backs, of Paul’s troubled emotional past and the reason he has been on leave from teaching for so many years. We learn of Claire’s physical history when Michel was very young and how Paul had to care for him alone while Claire was in hospital, how Serge and Babette tried to take Michel to come to live with them while Claire was sick and Paul resisted. How Paul has always resented Serge’s interference in his life. How Serge has always tried to maintain that he knows what it best.
Paul tells the story both in the past and in the present of the story of Serge’s run for the prime ministership, during the dinner, which was how they were able to get the table at the posh restaurant that day in the first place. It was the type of place where one had to had reservations for three months to get a table, but if you were candidate for prime minister, of course, you could get a table. Paul describes in detail how the maitre d’ explains each dish with his pinky finger extended, hovering above each dish. He is highly annoyed by the man and the minuscule portions the restaurant offers for each course, and how his brother wolfs down his food, as he intersperses his description with the flash-backs to help the story along.
The conception of the book was brillant. I really enjoyed the way the book was laid out and the way Koch brought the story into its own. It sounds as if it might have been confusing, but it really wasn’t, the way Koch managed to have Paul go back and forth between the past and present in the story. He was able to make it very smooth and believable, as if Paul were actually telling you the story, as if you were actually the fifth person at the dinner, observing the goings-on. It was a magnificent book. I look forward to reading more of his novels.