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The Dinner: A Novel | [Herman Koch, Sam Garrett (translator)]

The Dinner: A Novel

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse - the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a 15-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families.
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Publisher's Summary

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse - the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a 15-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families.

As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

©2009 Herman Koch; Translation © 2012 by Sam Garrett (P)2013 AudioGO

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  •  
    Jane North Wales, PA, United States 05-12-13
    Jane North Wales, PA, United States 05-12-13
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    "Dining at its most distubing"
    What did you like best about this story?

    At the very beginning is a scene where the diners are discussing a Woody Allen film. Although Paul liked it, he was annoyed that his brother, Serge also enjoyed the film. So he began thinking over the faults in the film, wanting to prove to his brother that it was not so good after all and therefore one-up him. The author is very adept at portraying the pettiness of social minutiae in a humorous way.


    What about Clive Mantle’s performance did you like?

    At first I thought his style was too intense for Paul, whom I believed was a placid narrator. When I realized the scope of the narrator's character, I found that Clive Mantle did an excellent job in projecting Paul's range of emotion.


    Any additional comments?

    I found this novel to be humorously disturbing. Paul has a twisted intelligence which inserted into the restrictive framework of society produces an internal struggle that manifests itself in ways ranging from simple contrariness to fiendishly brutal. An examination of the grotesqueness of both an abnormal psyche and modern society.

    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. O. Pardue Atlanta, GA United States 02-23-13
    L. O. Pardue Atlanta, GA United States 02-23-13 Member Since 2010

    I love to read books set in interesting places or historical settings. I especially love mysteries and thrillers.

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    "A Dinner To Remember!"

    When I first read the summary of this new novel, I was so intrigued that I "pre-ordered" the book before reading the first review. I am so glad that I did because it is a dinner I will never forget. I got very caught up in the story right away despite the fact that during the entire first third of the story you don't even know why two brothers, Serge and Paul, and their wives, Babette and Claire, have come together at a restaurant to discuss some terrible subject that involves their children.

    This story starts with the ritzy restaurant and includes all five courses from "Apertif" to "The Tip". Paul, the narrator, has many (even too many) long-winded and disdainful thoughts about everything from the menu, to the outfits of the wait staff, to his brother and his family and politics. As more information about Paul and his family comes out, you begin to realize in horrifying degrees that all is not as it seems. The middle of the story was somewhat tedious, but the ending is so strong and sickening. It is the ultimate story of what parents will do to protect their children, no matter what they have done.

    I strongly recommend this book and can't wait until more people read it so that I can discuss it with someone. The narrator did an outstanding job. I am still hearing his voice in my head as I can't stop thinking of this story. Loved it!

    31 of 32 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julie W. Capell Milwaukee, WI USA 10-27-13
    Julie W. Capell Milwaukee, WI USA 10-27-13 Member Since 2007

    notthe1

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    "So funny I barely noticed the cliff"

    I think I missed the meeting when my book club chose this book, so I had absolutely no idea what it was about when I downloaded it into my phone and began to listen. Within a few sentences, I found myself laughing out loud. I don’t know if a person reading the book would get as much of the snarky humor inherent in this book (particularly the beginning) but it definitely comes across in the audio version as expertly brought alive by Clive Mantle. Just the way Mantle pronounces “Serrrrrrge” with a heavy, sardonic emphasis on the “r” made me laugh every time. And don’t get me started on the scene in the men’s room—hysterical!

    The beginning chapters are a bitingly droll commentary on upper middle class life in the early 21st century. I absolutely howled with laughter at the descriptions of the pretentious restaurant, the self-important maître d’ (and his pinky!) and the ostentatiously named food. Side trips into the protagonist’s memories were also—at first—amusing, particularly the passage about the garden party.

    Which brings me to another thing I loved about this book: the way the author described things. Like the woman at the garden party with a “voice like the sweetener in Diet Coke.” I also really liked it when the author described something and then wrote something along the lines of “well, no . . . it wasn’t exactly like that . . . it was more like . . .” and then went on to give a fantastic simile that left no doubt what he had in mind. In chapter 15 he gives three different descriptions of Serge’s face, each one more telling than the last: “like a new car that got its first scratch,” “like a cartoon whose chair has been kicked out from under him,” and finally “if he wore that face asking people to vote for him, no one would give him a second look.”

    There is much, much more to this book, and once the action starts to heat up the comedy is replaced by a chilling look behind the scenes of these “normal” lives. Societal issues including racism, homelessness, parenting, violence and morality are presented as I have seldom encountered them before in a novel. The end . . . well, I don’t want to give anything away, but it was sort of like in the Road Runner when the coyote realizes the cliff has dropped out from under him. A great listen!

    27 of 28 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mylrea Estell Monroe, OR United States 03-08-13
    Mylrea Estell Monroe, OR United States 03-08-13 Member Since 2009

    Lush Vineyard

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    "Happy Families Are All Alike"

    Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
    Thus begins The Dinner, a novel served up in courses. The food is minimalist, overly described, and at times not especially palatable. The same can be said for this little novel where characters we may not like are thrust before us. Just as the spaces on the plates are greater than the bits of food, what's unsaid about our characters is greater than what we are told.
    The Dinner is often compared to Gone Girl. Both feature people acting without conscience and narrators whose voices don't quite ring true. Most readers prefer Gone Girl for its strong narrative pacing, but I was dissapointed by GG, while I loved The Dinner. I found the characters here to be much more interesting, and I enjoyed the structure of this novel, where the current action takes place over a few hours, while recollections fill in the story.
    The audio narration by Clive Mantle was masterful. One of the best out of the several hundred books I've listened to. This is one where the audio narration elevates a good book to an amazing "reading" experience.

    16 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marci portland, OR, United States 03-20-13
    Marci portland, OR, United States 03-20-13 Member Since 2006
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    "Loved the twists"

    "Twists" isn't quite the right word. This book just went in directions I didn't expect it to go and I loved it. It sneaks up on you and before you know it, nothing is what it seems. I really liked this book. It's dark and surprising.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 05-05-13
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 05-05-13 Member Since 2012

    i like to read. i like to listen.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Thought Proving Disturbing Story of Family"

    oh how i love the unreliable narrator. the narrator who at first, you kind of like, laughing at his jokes, agreeing with his commentary. the narrator you feel compassion for -- his story and opinions. the narrator that throws everything on it's head as the story progresses and makes you feel almost angry at yourself for feeling the way you did in the beginning of the novel. when the truth is actually laid out there and you see what he was saying all along.
    clive mantle does a great job with this narration.

    this book is DARK. i mean...like....really really dark. in a long while i haven't read anything this shocking. its full of people you won't like...full of scenes you won't ever want to read again (and won't soon forget).

    i think the pacing of this novel was really well done. to use a food metaphor (this is "the dinner" after all), the unfolding of each layer of the onion brings out new facts, new understandings, and therefor new questions. there was a perfect amount of the "now" and the "before". a perfect amount of insight, introduced course by course.


    ***one thing i will say is that this book is NOTHING like Gone Girl. i dont know why so many people are comparing the two. i mean, i've read no less then 5 books in the past year that have so called 'twist' endings...and none of them can be compared to one another. so...if you liked GG, you may not like this...and if you hated GG, you may still love this -- so don't take that comparison as your judge. just read it.***

    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda UT 04-12-13
    Melinda UT 04-12-13 Member Since 2009

    So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Axis II Dinner Club"

    Paul and Claire Lohman...the morally nihilistic parenting team "in comparison with whom Caligula's horse was respectable"...

    What is the joke about call me anything just don't call me late for dinner? This is the exception Dinner. Paul and Claire are meeting for dinner with Pauls' brother and his wife to discuss their teenaged sons and some serious trouble. The whole story is served up in one meal; with each course, more of the story is revealed. The restaurant is one of those Bourgeoisie establishments that relishes in detailing each artistic Lilliputian course, down to the PETA approved loving care the little lamb received before it was butchered for its sweetbreads that are now served "lightly sautéed in Moroccan olive oil and presented with white currants"...the server's pinky hooked and pointing out the fine details. The incongruity of that description stuck in my mind; and as the events are laid on the table, I wondered about the ethical treatment pre-butchering, the beautiful presentation of slaughter...there's an analogy coming? a statement about brutal society mayhaps?

    Koch tortures you with the details, that banal, tiresome drivel taken to the extreme, the back and forth bickering, adding a sense of taut irritation to an already tense situation--but this manipulation of the listener becomes tiresomely repetitive. Comparisons have been made to Defending Jacob, We Need To Talk About Kevin, books with the theme of parents protecting their children at all costs. But don't expect to find a likeable or redeeming quality that will allow you empathy for these parents, or even a flicker of parental love to validate the violation of truth and accountability. Koch's complete dedication to the darkness of these characters even eclipses Flynn's Nick and Amy.

    If The Silence of the Lambs, Gone Girl, American Psycho, Misery, even Prague Cemetery, are considered *dark*-- Koch has succeeded in creating a darker shade of black. This one left me agreeing that cell phones should not be allowed in restaurants, and feeling that the final course here should have been served with some Pepto.

    47 of 54 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sam Riverside, RI, United States 03-18-13
    sam Riverside, RI, United States 03-18-13 Member Since 2011
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    "This was completely overrated"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    I got this because it had been billed as a "European Gone Girl." It was not. It was badly written drivel. His supposedly brilliant descriptive passages dragged on and on. The characters (all of them) were completely detestable from the word go. At least with Gone Girl you start out liking the characters and then not liking them and ultimately kind of ambivalent. The author tried desperately to get us to like or at least some of the motivation for some of the things that happen but I never liked any of them.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Herman Koch and Sam Garrett (translator) again?

    Seems unlikely. The whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth and not just because of the events in the actual story. I can deal with dramatic horror. This just left me feeling manipulated.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Dinner?

    The whole first section in which he goes on ad nauseum about the food, the restaurant and the patrons.


    Any additional comments?

    I think the narrator tried to add extra "drama" by slowing down his reading when things were supposed to feel "suspenseful." It was more annoying than effective.

    I finished this book because I "paid" for it with one of my credits. But I would suggest saving credits for something more worthwhile.

    16 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suzn F Fletcher, VT, US 11-19-13
    Suzn F Fletcher, VT, US 11-19-13 Member Since 2005

    I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Indigestion at the Dinner"

    Yes I'm in the minority, I just did not find anything redeeming about this book. The pace was too slow, the characters annoying, the plot uninteresting and none of it worth the wait. The indulgent author going on and on about the food just got on my last nerve. I not only want my credit back, but I wish I could have my time returned too. Ugh.

    27 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Betsy Georgitis Western US 04-16-13
    Betsy Georgitis Western US 04-16-13 Member Since 2012

    I enjoy a variety of books including mysteries, historical fiction as well as young adult and children's literature. Listening to books gives me the ability to "read" in the car as well as the evening as a nightcap before bed.

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    "Unpleasant but engaging characters"

    This book highlights family relationships during a time of extreme stress as well as how ethics and judgement come into play when crimes have been committed. I have to admit I was somewhat shocked by the reactions of many of the characters and wonder how the decisions they made can be justified . This novel is well written and engaging keeping you guessing until the end.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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