the dinner herman koch


shannon-chatWere you bothered by the “slow burn” of the opening?
SarahAbsolutely not! I think the slow burn gave Koch’s brilliant writing and biting social commentary a chance to establish themselves before starting in on all the action. By the time the action came, it was just a bonus. I loved it.
april-chatI loved the slow burn too, I re-read this last week in preparation for this discussion and it was even more delightful the second time around.
monika-chatI complained about the slow burn while reading it. There was a point where I thought, “Okay, I really don’t want to listen to this guy complain about his brother anymore or I will lose it! Something needs to happen here.” A few pages later, it was ON! That being said, I think on a re-read I would love looking at the opening with the new perspective I now have.
CiskaI did not really mind. It kept me curious about what exactly happened and when it would be revealed. I do agree with Monika. I was tired of his complaining very quick.

What actually really bothered me was the secrecy nonsense. “Yeah that one metro station you might recognize from the description but I am not disclosing more! You know the one with the apartment buildings next to it and close to the airport and with a train station connected but I won’t say a word.”
shannon-chatI remember freaking out about how much I loved it within the first few pages. There’s so much snark and, like Sarah said, great commentary…but also this super ominous feeling over the whole thing. That feeling freaks me out so much more than straight horror. It reminded me of the movie Funny Games, which I still find terrifying.
april-chatYes. There was definitely an overarching feeling of something bad is going to happen soon, which is probably why the slow burn worked so well for me.
catherine-chat2I loved the slow burn. And I’m with Shannon—even as it was unfolding, even before we know what the boys did, the word that kept popping into my head was “gruesome”. Just the person Paul was and then Claire?! The whole situation was gruesome and became horrifying. It was worse than blood and guts probably because it was psychological, which is more terrifying to me.
SarahWas anyone else surprised when Paul’s name was revealed? Based on his personality in the opening, I expected a much more curmudgeonly name…like Herman…rather than plain vanilla Paul.
april-chatHahaha, are you saying something about our author? I was surprised that his name was revealed at all as I think this would have been a great opportunity for Koch to omit a name and make this into a sort of backwards ‘everyman’ novel. Which come to think of it, using plain vanilla Paul—he might have been trying to accomplish the same thing.
SarahOooh…could I be projecting the narrator’s voice onto our author? Definitely possible! Interesting point that this could have been a successful “nameless” narrator novel. I felt like I got to know Paul so well that I really didn’t even need a name. Could plain vanilla Paul also be meant to offset Serge’s pretentiousness….sort of a bigwig/upper class vs. everyman/middle class thing—although Serge and Paul could both be considered upper class, just one more well-known than the other?
CiskaI was pretty surprised with the combination of names. Knowing the one guy was named Paul and the other Serge I first thought they were joking about the brother thing. I do not feel it happens often that people choose a down to earth name for one child and an expensive sounding name for the other and Serge is not a common name at all.
catherine-chat2Would you have been interested in seeing the events from Claire or Babette’s point of view?
SarahI would have loved to get Claire’s point of view. She was the most enigmatic character for me. She came across as pretty mild and placating in the beginning, but she ended up taking the most hardline stance for allowing the children to avoid all responsibility for what they’d done…then took matters into her own hands. A wolf in sheep’s clothing?
CiskaI would have liked to hear from Claire, too. I did not get much of an idea about Babette and her personality, though with the idea she did not want Serge to pull back from the elections there might have been enough of an emotion how she was thinking about it.
shannon-chatEven though I’d like to hear her perspective, in a way I think Claire’s would have been too much of a give. I totally agree with her being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
SarahThat’s an interesting way to think about. I guess what Claire was up to behind the scenes was one of the big drivers of the suspense. But, I think it could also have been interesting to have chapters with alternating perspectives. I’m curious if Claire was always planning to do absolutely anything to protect the boys or if she was driven to her actions by Serge’s unilateral decision to throw her son under the bus…more of a crime of passion.
april-chatOhhh…I so agree with this. Had this story been told from Claire’s point of view then most of the suspense would have been lost—but what if we had just changed the names of the characters and everything Paul experienced would have been Claire—and Claire would have been surprised (betrayed?) by how much her husband was hiding from her, would that have change our perceptions? Because a mother is almost expected to defend her children to an extreme, whereas fathers like Paul merely come across as sociopaths?
CiskaI got the sociopath vibe with both. Even though a mother is easier to believe in defending her children the calm way Claire mentioned that she has known all the time and Paul did not even get a vibe made me very uncomfortable.
shannon-chatWhen Paul loses his teaching job, do you think it’s due to his illness?
SarahI’m still confused about his illness. What was it that he supposedly had? It seemed like manic depression or bipolar disorder to me, but then neither of those would be something that would come up on prenatal testing or cause many people to terminate the pregnancy (as the book mentioned would have been common). I thought this was a relatively unexplored thread in the story. As far as the incident that causes him to lose his job, I felt like he just cracked up—had a nervous breakdown moment and lost his filter.
CiskaTo me it felt like this was introduced to create a level of acceptance for the behaviour of the kid. Maybe he has the same mental issues as the dad and he really cannot help what he did. I am curious about the specific diagnosis, too.
catherine-chat2This was one of the most interesting aspects of the novel for me because it turned everything upside down. Paul is essentially told he has a neurological illness and because it is hereditary, his son very likely has it as well. So neither of them is ‘responsible’ for their actions and it is the homeless woman’s fault and the store owner’s fault and Serge’s fault. Anytime, Paul or Michel lash out it’s someone else’s fault for triggering them—there is no sense of responsibility at all. Paul is a psychopath.  I’m with both Sarah and Ciska—more about this would have been welcome.
SarahI did feel a thread of “does he have what I have?” running through the whole story (and almost a fear about this possibility)…but what IS it?!
april-chatI got the idea that Koch left it unnamed because there isn’t necessarily a disease that fits that criteria and, like Sarah says above, bi-polar can’t be detected by prenatal testing. But I get the idea that the U.S. is much more conservative when it comes to abortion for prenatal defects, so that suppose we were talking about spina bifida, it would be totally believable that European parents would terminate.
shannon-chatI think part of the reason so many Americans dislike this book is that it feels too European. Also, when it was published here we heard that it was a HUGE bestseller in the Netherlands. Does it seem like a book most people love or is it pretty controversial?
CiskaIt is a huge bestseller and won a public voting award.

I read the book in Dutch and actually wondered about some parts how they are translated and how the US people would receive those comments. Like the situation where he goes to the bathroom and there is this whole part about peeing next to another man and the interesting urinal. I guess it would have had a different tone if it was written by an American author in an American setting but for me this is a typical Dutch book.

The book is based on a true story: three guys killed a homeless woman this way in Barcelona in 2005. There was some talk about that, but it was not controversial. It is a book advised to take on holiday as it makes such a great beach read.
april-chatWow. I would not have pegged this as a beach read for most Americans. (Myself, I took it on a cruise.)
SarahDid you all see the Wall Street Journal quote that leads the blurb on

“A European Gone Girl.” —The Wall Street Journal

A fair comparison or not? How do you think it affected people’s opinion of the book?
CiskaI feel there are too many books compared to Gone Girl recently as if Gone Girl is now a definition of a certain suspense level. And as Het Diner was published before Gone Girl I do not agree.
SarahI agree…way too many books are compared to Gone Girl. And, I feel like that comparison tends to set me up for disappointment. Plus, I didn’t see that comparison until after I’d read the book and I almost spit my water out laughing. I think The Dinner is so different…much more reliant on writing and commentary instead of a huge reveal or twist. My mother-in-law didn’t love The Dinner because she went into it expecting something similar to Gone Girl.
shannon-chatI thought the same thing when I heard the comparison after reading The Dinner. I can see it based on the likability of the characters, but other than that there isn’t much to go on. With The Dinner’s slow pace and totally different feel, I think almost anyone going in with that expectation would be disappointed.
catherine-chat2I’m so glad I read this before that blurb because I’m to the point where I won’t read something is it’s compared to Gone Girl. Tired of it.


Read Our Reviews:

The Gilmore Guide  | The Steadfast Reader | Lovely BookshelfCiska’s Book Chest | Sarah’s Book Shelves

What do you think, readers? Did The Dinner live up to your expectations or did you find yourself frustrated? Did you find the characters made the book difficult to enjoy? Who do you think is at fault?