The Dinner has already sold over a million copies in Europe and it is easy to see why. This is a novel with a compelling narrative, easy to read but with a dark heart to it. It will be loved by book groups because there is plenty to discuss here.
It starts off in a fairly light-hearted way with the narrator, Paul Lohman and his wife Claire, on their way to dinner with Paul's brother Serge and his wife Babette. Paul is dryly humorous about his brother's choice of restaurant, the sort of place where people have to book three months in advance, and throughout the book we are treated to descriptions of the pretentious food they are served (the sort of restaurant where food has a provenance: 'the crayfish are dressed in a vinaigrette of estragon and baby green onions ... and these are chanterelles from the Vosges'). But this is no ordinary dinner party. There is a family crisis which they have to discuss. Both couples have a fifteen year old son and both couples know that their sons have been involved in a horrific act of violence which has been caught on CCTV and shown on national TV. The Lohmans have to decide what they are going to do about this and naturally there are differences of opinion.
As the novel progresses we are given snippets of information about the past and gradually it becomes clear that Paul is an unreliable narrator. This ensures that we never quite know where our sympathies should lie (other than with the victim of the boys' crime, of course).
Koch has said that he got the idea for the book from a similar incident of violence in Spain (where he now lives). What shocked people most was that the boys involved in the crime came from stable middle class families and it set him thinking 'what if ...'. On its own this idea would have been quite a good idea for a novel but Koch's characterisation of the Lohman brothers lifts it to another level and the startling climax will get the book groups going. Recommended.