#onthebookshelf The Dinner- Herman Koch


Warning: since this book is entitled The Dinner, I will probably use a lot of food analogies.

Today’s on the bookshelf came to me as a birthday present from my university pal Jo who I’ve not seen or heard from in way too long. I took The Dinner away with me as my aeroplane read on my recent trip to Berlin.

Despite working in publishing, I don’t get to read nearly as much as I want to and so tucking into this book by Dutch novelist Herman Koch was a bit of sinful treat. It was one I was glad I allowed myself the indulgence of however, as it provided me with some real food for thought.

The book, translated from the original Dutch, centres around two middle class families eating dinner at an expensive restaurant deciding what’s best for their sons’ futures.  The tagline for the novel reads ‘How far would you go to protect the ones you love?’ But, as deep as that question is, it isn’t the only big question this book ladles out to the reader.

This book is a criticism of everything we have come to value today.  From ridiculing the laughable portion sizes and emperor’s new clothes nature of eating out at ‘non- normal people restaurants’, to humanity’s own disconnection with extreme violence  in face of what has become more important, for example money or status.  capital punishments, being a father rather than a mother, the hopelessness of teaching, depression, abortion, sibling rivalry and much more are all delved into in this impressive fourth offering from Koch. Though comments to a more primal instinct for survival and ensuring your bloodline continues are explored, the lengths that are gone to for these to be achieved leave you simultaneously repulsed, enthralled and wondering if you would do the same to save your ungrateful child.

The book is cleverly structured around the courses of a meal from Apperitifs to Desserts which paces the novel beautifully, but like the dishes presented to the diners, there is enough white space around what the narrator, Michel’s father, gives the reader, so they can really think about what they are metaphorically eating.

By the end of the novel, you’re not sure if you need a Rennie’s Soft Chew, want to be sick, want seconds or maybe it was just one of the best books you’ve had chance to eat up in a quite a while.

To buy a copy, click here


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