I’ve stated before that I enjoy unlikable curmudgeons for protagonists. Not in every book I read, but when I come across one I do consider it a treat. There’s something exciting about reading a character who completely personifies your worst Monday morning attitude, and this is one area where The Dinner succeeds.
Two couples meet at an expensive restaurant. The husbands are brothers, one was a school teacher and the other is a politician months away from an inevitable win. Over the course of the dinner, a dark family truth is revealed and we learn how they discovered this and how they plan to cope.
It’s a difficult novel to summarize, because a large part of the enjoyment of this is the slow reveal of the truth throughout the novel, the truth of the events that occurred as well as the true personalities of the characters. The novel, when not in flashback, takes place entirely in and around the restaurant. It’s the sort of story that depends completely on pacing, and Herman Koch really nailed that.
A terrible criminal act was committed, and the question of the novel is how the family will react and why they’ll react how they do. It’s interesting to see unfold, particularly when the characters are unsavoury and unpredictable.
What I didn’t enjoy is how Koch explained the behaviour of the protagonist and his son, how he essentially implied that Asperger’s was the cause of these people being violent sociopaths. He said in interviews that he didn’t want to name a disease, that he kept it vague to avoid people calling it a crude caricature, but in so obviously hinting at it the result was the same, even if he tried to rid himself of any personal responsibility.
There was really no need to even include this in the story. Trying to link this behaviour to a hereditary medical issue actually comes across as less believable than linking it to his environment and upbringing.
Anyhoo, despite some problems, I found this to be a compelling read. Having a story take place throughout a dinner, with the actual narrative being divided up by course, was fun as well. I liked how he gave character clues around how they interacted with the food and service staff. The reviews on this seem to be very divided, with some people absolutely hating it, but I had a fun time listening to this one on audiobook.