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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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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!

39 of 41 people found this review helpful

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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!

47 of 51 people found this review helpful

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  • Jane
  • North Wales, PA, United States
  • 05-12-13

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.

23 of 25 people found this review helpful

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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.

23 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Marci
  • portland, OR, United States
  • 03-20-13

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.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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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.

62 of 75 people found this review helpful

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Unable to keep traction

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

The story started out so great, with great foreshadowing; however, around the halfway point it got rather tedious and I found it really hard to care about what was being foreshadowed. The ending was okay, but the payoff I was hoping for was just not there.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth Anne
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 05-05-13

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 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.***

18 of 22 people found this review helpful

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The Characters You Love To Hate

I begin this book with a presupposition; that I would like the main character. You always like the main character , right? But as I invested time into this book, even before the secretes were revealed, I had a strong distaste for Peter. What a self-centered jerk, I found myself yelling.

For that, I applaud the author and narrator. They did such a good job of it, I debated with myself weather or not I wanted to go on listening. I LIKE to like my main characters, to find some redeeming value in them. But the decisions made by these characters, I found absolutely appalling.

So go on... Get immersed in the telling, but have your mouthwash ready to wash the lingering taste from your conscience.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Interesting concept, yet a miss for me

This was an interesting book, however a few things held it back in my opinion.

The best aspect:
-I enjoyed the unreliable narrator, this gave the first person point-of-view credibility. This also gave the main character Paul, credibility.
-The author does a good job of giving the reader details of the world and it's characters. The character fixates on details that create interesting scenes in our imaginations.
-The narrator did a great job reading this book. I enjoyed his voices, accent, and inflections.

The worst aspect:
-We slowly see this family unravel, too slowly. The entire book literally takes place during one dinner. There are flashback to feed us information, but the constraint of one evening is tedious.
-A little confusing. Even though the entire book is essentially this one evening, I found myself lost in the timeline with all the flashbacks.

Overall, if you want to try something different, read this. It is an interesting book, there are great descriptions and dialogue. However, if you are like me, you might find yourself annoyed with the tedious aspect of spending nearly nine hours with this family during this meal. Although, I think the author did this intentionally to create restlessness in the reader so we understand the main characters feelings.

I have seen many reviews comparing this to Gillian Flynn's work of Gone Girl, I do not see it. The pacing and development of Gone Girl was much faster and interesting than this book.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful