I recently read Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, and while it wasn’t a favorite it did make me curious about his other novels. The Dinner, perhaps his most well-known book, was the next one I chose. It’s the story of – surprise – a dinner, with the culmination of events that are told partly through flashback and partly over the course of the meal.
It’s interesting to have read novels by the same author written years apart (this was first published in 2009). Of the two, I prefer The Dinner but I can see how Koch’s plot structuring improved by Summer House with Swimming Pool. Koch writes in Dutch so I’ve only read translations, but the growth is, conveniently, in areas that are unlikely to suffer by changing language.
I found the structure of this novel very interesting. The plot follows the pattern of the meal, where the main course coincides with the rising action and the novel is “polished off” with an aperitif at the end. Paul is continually annoyed by the restaurant staff, who interrupt the flow of conversation to continually over-explain the dabs of food that have been brought out. This annoyance carries over to the reader, as the story is cut off while the courses are described.
I was expecting more of a shock factor from this book, and while it definitely takes some unexpected turns, they’re still believable. I never had a moment that made me put the book down and say “Whoa.” And it works. The characters evolve so gradually that the next step is never a leap. As more of the plot is revealed, qualities I didn’t consciously process become suddenly relevant. I think the most unsettling thing about this book is how easy it is to accept. Its foot-in-the-door approach is disturbingly effective. The blurb on the front says that Gillian Flynn found The Dinner “unputdownable” and I have to agree. I read the book in two sittings, and I would have done so in one if I’d had the time.
4 out of 5 stars
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.