Herman Koch’s The Dinner (2013) is intriguing from the beginning. Sure, an entire story told through the course of a dinner is nothing groundbreaking, but the way Paul, the narrator, speaks to the reader is what makes this unique. He purposely omits details about the story at hand; the name of the restaurant, for example. Instantly he is seen as unreliable, but you grow to believe him as he spins his tale.
Paul Lohman is private and wearisome, yet his brother, Serge, is on the verge of being prime minister. The story promises to revolve around something that their two fifteen year old boys did, but that doesn’t come into play until much, much later. This book is a slow, laborious read. There are many pages spent describing the food and atmosphere of the restaurant. This doesn’t bother me as much as it does others, but I wish that Koch developed the characters’ problems earlier. There are passages that feel like if they were omitted then the pacing issues would be non-existent.
About halfway through the book is when everything finally becomes interesting. The plot moves quickly, and it’s rather refreshing. However, it feels rushed and we end up only get the slimmest of details. Perhaps this was to go in hand with Paul’s purposeful lack of narration, but I feel Koch just didn’t develop the gritty details enough. The action of the last half, especially the final act of the book, is boom-boom-boom. It left me wanting more, but not in a satisfactory way. In more of a, “wait-what?” way.
There were some points during my read that I felt that Koch’s beautiful prose was lost in translation from Dutch to English. It felt choppy at best during times I wanted the scenes to flow painlessly. However, Koch’s take on jumping back and forth in time to unfold a story was good. His jumps were always triggered by key moments and sometimes spent entire chapters on events that didn’t seem all that important until the rest of the story unfolded.
All in all, it’s a good read if you’re interested in dry drama and have a pension for rapid assault endings. If you’re looking for all out forceful novel a la Tom Clancy or Dan Brown, then this isn’t for you. Definitely a slow burner.