At the moment I have so many books on my To Be Read list, that I can barely keep track of how many of them got there in the first place. The Dinner is a prime example; none of my friends have read it and it’s on neither the Man Booker Prize shortlist nor the BBC Big Read – both of which I’m trying to read my way through – thus, I’m not sure exactly when or how I came across it.
Written by Dutch author Herman Koch and translated by Sam Garett, The Dinner or Het Dinner in Koch’s native Holland was published in August following huge success in Europe. Quite coincidentally yesterday was International Translations Day, which takes place on 30th September each year on the feast of St Jerome who is considered the Patron Saint of translators. Thus it was quite fitting that I read The Dinner on a day that celebrates translators and their work.
The first page is one of the most compelling I’ve read; and the narrative instantly draws in the reader. The Dinner starts off fairly light-heartedly, with the narrator Paul Lohman and his wife Claire on their way to dinner at a pretentious restaurant in Eastern Amsterdam with his brother, political candidate Serge Lohman and his wife Babette. However, while the tone remains humourous throughout the narrative, there is a dramatically disturbing element that soon surfaces and is the focal point of what is essentially a complex family drama.
As the novel progresses, the plot thickens and the suspense is tangible throughout. The reader gradually becomes aware of the wildly unreliable nature of the narrator, and thus becomes wary of what is fact and what is fiction.
Set against the backdrop of an imposing restaurant, with a cast of unsympathetic characters, The Dinner is a unique, compelling read. I don’t want to give away too much of what happens in Koch’s bestseller, but suffice to say it’s easy to see why it has sold over a million copies worldwide. A fast-paced thriller exploring themes of etiquette, violence and family complexities, this is a dark, thought-provoking novel that tests the moral boundaries of its readers and ends on a startling climax.