The Dinner, by Herman Koch

Centered around a meal in a restaurant where Paul and his wife Claire are dining with Paul's brother, the putative next Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and his wife. During the course of the meal, it becomes clear that they need to discuss a crime that their children have been involved with, and decide what to do about it.

This was another A Good Read recommendation. I think, before reading the book, that what I was expecting was a story as described in the precis above that focused on the moral dilemma facing the parents.

In fact, although the main part story ostensibly "takes place" on the evening of the meal, there are quite a lot of flashbacks and reminiscences. The book is told in the first person by Paul, and it fairly soon becomes clear that his narration may be unreliable; at least he's a pretty unpleasant piece of work.

In fact, the crime which precipitates the discussion seems rather less serious when compared to Paul's own feelings and actions. And so while the strapline for the book is "How far would you go to protect the ones you love?", that's a bit misleading I think, because it felt to me that the book was mostly about Paul and his personal history; this does inform his choices about how to cope with his son's misdeeds, but it means that the average reader isn't really in a position to identify with Paul's reactions.

It was also hard to know whether all the things Paul claimed to have done actually happened: he seems to have been guilty of some pretty nasty crimes himself, but there's no mention of his ever having to face any legal consequences. On top of this, there are a number of pieces of information which Paul says he's witholding from us deliberately ("you don't need to know that") - some of which would have been interesting to know. Specifically, Paul is at one point diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder that is genetic, and advised not to have children. What on earth could that be? Paul doesn't tell us.

Maybe we're not meant to trust everything that Paul tells us, but in that case it's not clear how meaningful the rest of the story is.

At any rate, I found it disappointing. I quite often lost concentration while listening, and I think perservered mainly in the expectation that there might be an appendix or postscript at the end (as in Enduring Love) that would give some kind of explanation for the weird bits.

Completed : 28-Jun-2013 (audiobook)

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