Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: The Dinner

Summary: An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives -- all over the course of one meal.

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy. -- Hogarth

Holy moly! I've heard so many good things about THE DINNER by Herman Koch. My good friend was raving about it. Plus, there has been loads of positive reviews both on-line and in magazines. I decided to check it out of the library and see what all of the fuss was about!

THE DINNER is definitely a unique novel and I can't say I've read anything like it in recent memory. It has been compared to GONE GIRL, but I'm quickly realizing that might be the kiss of death for me. Maybe my expectations were just too darn high when I picked up this novel, but I wasn't blown away by it. It was good and had some surprising (and disturbing moments); however, I can't say that I loved it.

THE DINNER tells the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. It's apparent early on that there is an underlying tension between the couples; and as the dinner progresses from course to course, the story is gradually revealed. Both couples have teen-age sons who were involved in a horrible tragedy -- one that has instigated a police investigation. By the end of the evening, the couples start discussing the real issue and the reader learns just how desperate everyone is to protect their own child.

I digress here, but I'm honestly not quite sure that THE DINNER should be included as part of Mystery Mondays because the "mystery" was revealed pretty early on in the story. However, I do think it's more of a quiet psychological suspense book, and I decided that it could qualify on that reason. (It's my feature so I can do what I want, right?)

Back to the review... There is no argument from me that THE DINNER is an extremely well written book. The pace of the story was fantastic and the story was intriguing enough that I didn't want to put down the book. I also thought the characters were interesting, and I appreciated how the story made me uncomfortable. However, the secret of what the boys did was revealed fairly early on. I kept waiting for something BIG to happen, and in a way, I was let down. I guess I could say that the very end of the book was somewhat surprising to me and kind of felt like a kick to the stomach, but I wasn't as shocked as I wanted to be. Once again, I think I fell victim to the hype.

THE DINNER was written in the voice an extremely unreliable narrator -- which seems to be extremely popular right now thanks to GONE GIRL. I'm not entirely sure when I realized that the character wasn't exactly trust-worthy (or stable!), but it was pretty early on in the story. Maybe I'm just tired of the unreliable narrator, but I'm just not as impressed by this angle as I used to be.

I think THE DINNER would make for an interesting discussion, but I wasn't able to find a formal guide anywhere. Since the cast of characters are all flawed, there is an abundance of material to analyze about their actions. Furthermore, you might want to explore family dynamics, love, guilt, morals, ethics, mental illness, the nature vs. nurture debate, protection, class structure, and loyalty.

While THE DINNER wasn't my favorite read of the summer, I'm still glad that I picked it up. Recommended for fans of books about crime and dysfunctional families.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I've heard a lot about this book and have had huge expectations as well. I think I might need to wait for the hype to die down to try it.

Stacie said...

I had thought about choosing this book for our book club. It definitely sounds like there would be stuff to talk about. The book is certainly intriguing.

Beth Hoffman said...

I bought this book not knowing much about it. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but the book didn't hold of my attention and I stopped reading after a few chapters. Perhaps I'll give it another try at a later date.

Beth F said...

I have shied away from this because of the comparison to Gone Girl. I was one of the few who didn't like the book that much -- probably because there was too much hype and no book can live up to that.