The Dinner , by Dutch author Herman Koch, has been a European best seller since 2009. The story is a dark tale told by an unreliable narrator, Paul Lohman, a story that twists and turns as we learn more about Lohman and his “happy” family.
Lohman is a family man, living with his wife, Clare, and their 15-year-old son, Michael. The story takes place in the course of a single evening in which Paul and Clare go out to dinner with Paul’s brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. It is immediately clear that the relationship between the brothers is tense, Paul being resentful of Serge’s success. Serge is a politician poised for a winning bid for Prime Minister. It isn’t immediately clear what Paul does, but we see right away that he isn’t in Serge’s league.
The story unfolds through the course of the dinner and the action is, in fact, separated by the individual courses: aperitif, appetizer, main course, etc. By the middle of the meal we know that Paul’s son, Michael, and Serge’s son have committed a terrible crime. They haven’t been caught yet, but the parents have come together to discuss how it should be handled. That they can’t agree is widely foreshadowed by the obviously rivalry between the men.
This is a subtle, dark book in which nothing is really as it seems. It kept me interested most of the way through although, for my taste, it was a little anti-climatic. The plot was doled out a bit too slowly, the characters became a bit unbelievable. Still, it has its strong points and may, in fact, make a better movie than the book.