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on 27 August 2014
A summer’s evening in Amsterdam. Two couples meet at a restaurant. They talk about what couples do, but beside the seemingly normal and rather cosy chit chat there is utter anguish at despair at what their teenage sons have done.

Their children, their flesh and blood have committed a horrifying act. To make matters worse, they have been caught on camera, grainy CCTV images – despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents.

Asthe parents tuck into their starters, they have to decide what to do. Who really is to blame?

Apart from the setting in a unknown restaurant in Amsterdam, the sense of place is rather that of Dutch society and the role of parents and the portrayal of family life. You won’t like the people in the novel and in fact as I did, you will probably utterly despise them - Paul in particular who as the main narrator has a lot to say for himself about politicians, the state of the world etc etc but whether you can or should believe him is another matter entirely.

The structure of the novel – the serving of each course and the tasting of the various flavours suited this plot perfectly – the pretentiousness of the restaurant staff and the snobbery apparent is pitch perfect

The characters may be hateful yet a good story doesn’t necessarily have to have likable ones to be interesting – and these certainly are multilayered and very complex characters. Paul Lohman is also very dark and as for his brother Serge? Brrrr

Dark secrets in bourgeois families are definitely on the menu -and that’s just for starters – for the main course there is the preoccupation with appearances, and for desert – hiding the skeletons hidden in the closet.

This is one of those books that I’m unsure of the ending and think that this was meant to be the case. Interpretation is a good thing when reading a book and when sat in one location, in the midst of a snobby restaurant and waiting for each dish to be served up, the service, the atmosphere and the comments around the table were fascinating. Weird but fascinating.
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On an evening in Amsterdam a couple approaches a restaurant, intending to meet another couple for dinner. The couple, our narrator Paul, and his wife Claire, seem a bit distracted and apprehensive about the evening. We soon learn that they are meeting for dinner with the Lohmans - who turn out to be Paul's brother Serge, and his wife Babette. Serge is a very successful politician, who inevitably draws many stares and whispers from the other diners in the restaurant. Paul doesn't seem to like his brother Serge, so why are they meeting for dinner? It soon emerges that they are there to discuss their teenage sons, who have committed a terrible crime...

The Dinner is truly unlike anything I have ever read before, but in a good way. I was intrigued by the description but as soon as I started reading I immediately got the impression that all was not as it seemed, and so I was drawn into the story, keen to know more.

The book takes place over the span of one evening, more specifically, the dinner that the two couples are attending. The novel is split into `courses', with each section of the book relating to a certain course in the meal. I really loved this idea, because as the courses progressed, a little more of the story was unravelled and the reader could digest this the way they would a meal. I was very curious to see how Herman could keep up an entire book over the course of one dinner, but he did it and it worked! Our narrator Paul takes us through his thought processes, from what he thinks of his brother, to the actual dinner and how it seems to be more of a performance with the waiter pointing out the finer details of the food, to the revelation of what their sons have done. There is a lot of detail in the book, which could put some readers off, but I actually found it added to the story, it made the narration seem more realistic as our thought processes can be quite detailed. As well as the narration during the dinner, there are also flashback scenes which I found particularly interesting, though I won't give away too much about them so as not to spoil it for anyone.

The tension in The Dinner was brilliant. I had no idea where the book was going to go next, every page surprised me and I was constantly unsure of who to trust. As the courses in the meal progressed I could feel the atmosphere changing and the tension constantly building, and this compelled me to read on further.

The Dinner would be perfect for a book club read because there are so many elements to explore and discussions to be had. It certainly had me thinking throughout and even after I turned the last page, I still keep going over the events in my mind.

The Dinner is a dark, compelling read full of secrets and surprises that unravel over the course of a dinner. It is gripping, with lots of suspense, and will have you turning the pages wanting to know what will happen next. I would definitely recommend this.
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Holland is such a peaceful country, full of windmills and water, and the city, Amsterdam. Now, we find ourselves in Amsterdam, but the country, the city is beside the fact. What we have here is a dilemma. A family dilemma, a personal dilemma , unlike anything you want for your family.

Paul Lohman is the narrator of his family's dilemma. He is a retired history teacher, a violent man who is told he has a neurological disease and must take medication to control his behavior. Paul is unable to tell us the disease, it is too personal. His wife, Claire had some sort of disease that required hospitalizations and repeat surgeries, but to protect her privacy he cannot tell us what disease or what hospital. Very strange, but as the narration goes on, little bits fall together. Paul and Claire's son, Michel, we find, has committed a terrible crime. Both Paul and Claire find out about the crime separately, and neither speaks about it to each other nor to anyone but Michel. It is another one of those secrets.

Serge Lohman, Paul's brother, a well known politician, campaigning to be Prime Minister, asks them to dinner to discuss something important to the family. Throughout five courses in a very luxurious retaurant,everything is discussed but the matter at hand. Babette, Serge's wife is upset, old tears in the corner of her eyes. Old resentments bubble up, long ago hurts and family issues never discussed lie right at the surface. Tensions rise, words are spoken, eyes gravitate towards Serge, the famous one. The issue is discussed, Michel and Serge's son, Rick, committed a crime and now, decisions must be made.

To what lengths would you go to protect your child, his life, your life, your reputation? Deep issues, that require careful thought and examination. Throughout this book, you will think of your family, what would I do, how would I act? Questions that can't really be answered. The author has written a provocative book that requires examination of our morals and ethics. It is a book that is easy to read, but not to digest. How this family reacts will open the door to long discussions. How could they?

Recommended. 10-31-13
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The Dinner is the sixth novel by Dutch actor, television and radio producer, newspaper columnist and author, Herman Koch, and the first book to be translated into English. Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at an expensive restaurant to discuss the management of the recent, shocking activities of their teenaged sons. Serge Lohman is the charismatic leader of an opposition party poised to take power at the next election, a few months away, making him a strong candidate for the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands. His younger brother, Paul, has little respect for his brother’s position and posturing, instead being focussed on the happiness of his own small family. The events of the evening are narrated by Paul and are interspersed with flashbacks to incidents that occurred months or years previously. Koch is a master craftsman when it comes to building his main character: Paul starts out as a reasonable, upstanding citizen, although his antagonism towards his brother is immediately apparent. As the story progresses, a different person begins to be revealed by glimpses, at first fleeting but gradually more sustained, and the reader starts to wonder about Paul’s reliability as a narrator. In fact, none of the characters is quite what they first appear to be. Koch uses his novel to comment on Dutch tourists, pretentious restaurants, politics, marriage, parental control and adolescent right to privacy, youth violence and the internet, eugenics, and the instinct to protect one’s young. Koch manages to include blackmail, a hereditary disorder, You Tube clips, quite a bit of violence, some hilarious descriptions of restaurant practices, a plot twist that will leave readers gasping and a chilling climax. This compelling, thought-provoking novel is flawlessly translated by Sam Garrett.
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on 21 July 2013
The Dinner sets out to demonstrate how two sets of parents deal with the realisation that their sons have been involved in a serious crime. The plot is structured around an arranged dinner between the parents (the fathers are brothers) to manage the situation. The background to the crime and family are revealed retrospectively during the course of the evening.

The novel is written in the first person, it is the voice of the main protagonist who often has disturbing reactions to events in his son's life and his own. I use the word disturbing because the main protagonist reacts violently to these situations.
The narrative however is full of many thoughtful observations about parenting, families, siblings and relationships and in particular sibling rivalry.

This is a gripping and dramatic novel but written in a strangely calm and detached style, it reflects on how far parents will go to preserve their children's future and their family's happiness. It is because of this detached style the reader is often drawn into sympathising with the parents as they rationalise their rather surprising attitudes and actions. The outcome however is shocking.

I thought both the structure and the style of the novel worked really well and the dynamics of the brother's relationship very true to life as was the setting in the expensive restaurant with its pretentious staff. Although the novel deals with an unsettling issue it is not without humour. It highlights prejudices in society, the evident lack of a moral compass in a desperate situation, ambition and wanting the do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.

A very thoughtful and worthwhile read and an excellent translation.
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on 28 September 2013
I read this book after hearing all the hype - and I thought the central premise 'how far parents would go to protect their children' was an interesting one.

Sadly, I feel very let down and frustrated after reading the book. As other reviewers have mentioned, the characters were all unlikable - the only one that appeared decent is the character we are meant not to like because he wants to be prime minister (surely someone has to do the job??).

Spoiler alerts***

However, my main problem was I just did not get some key bits of the book. The narrator Paul appears to be diagnosed with a hereditary condition - but we are told as readers 'he is not going to name or describe the condition' So, what are we meant to make of that - could it have some explanation for why Paul seems to have violent outbursts? and why his son is also violent? I have never heard of a condition that makes the sufferer undertake random acts of violence??? If there is such a condition, why not tell us something about it and we can add it to the nature vs nurture debate that underlies much of this book. The author uses this 'I am not going to tell you about this' device a number of times (Paul's wife is hospitalised for an extended period - which again may have some impact on the development of his son - but we are told by Paul 'I am not going to tell you what she was suffering from'). I have never come across this device in a book before. Some may like it and say it requires the reader to use their imagination - but if I wanted to use my imagination that much, I would not need the book in the first place and could just make up my own story.

My other frustration was at the very end Paul finds a form about an amniocentesis test carried out on his son. The writing is so cryptic that I could not understand what this was meant to be telling me as a reader - was Paul not the father?? was Paul the father but the mother had made all the important decision in the son's life i.e. was a dominant figure?? Given the centrality of 'the importance of blood relationships' and the underlying nature vs nurture ideas - to write this as so opaque was completely frustrating.

Could someone please explain the condition that Paul had and the meaning of the amniocentesis test results?

The story also has some very implausible aspects - Paul, the narrator and central figure has violent outbursts and for example, he attacked his brother with a saucepan and hospitalised one of his son's teachers. How come he did not seem to get prosecuted for this? And, how come he keeps referring to his family life as so happy? If my partner attacked and hospitalised people, I would consider I was part of a happy stable family.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 17 November 2013
"The Dinner" by Herman Koch is novel which is happening over the course of one evening, dinner divided into appetizer, main course and dessert. Story itself is divided in same way. Participants of this gathering, family one on first sight, are two couples, two Lohman brothers with their wives, one of them "big star" politician, future prime minister, the other one regular guy, teacher, ordinary sarcastic older brother. Or it all looked like that, at first sight.

Although main plot is happening that evening, through their talking and events during that dinner, reader will get chance to know the characters through lots of flashbacks and events from past. As plot unfolds you will find out that main purpose of dinner is not family gathering but big secret which concerns all four of them, situation which needs to be solved because from it all of their future depends.

Gathering begins with small talk but drama is unfolding minute by minute, with each dish brought on their table. What is excellent you really have feeling that you are sitting right next to four of them and you cannot help yourself listen, eavesdrop them.

What gets little more oil to the fire is fact that dinner is taking place in expensive and hard-to-get-in restaurant with several months need-to-wait lists, the type of restaurant where it's not actually usual to have discussions at all, especially about such sensitive topics.

In the end you will find out that nothing is like you think would be at first, you would start asking yourself what you would be doing put in situation like this and what is most important - family, ambition, future or image about ourselves...

It must be admitted that in the end you will realize there are no "good-guys", but it is like that in the real world, as well.

Dinner is a great read, something about you will think for sure alone and probably discuss over your own dinner...
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This wonderful novel begins deceptively simply, with two couples meeting for dinner at a pretentious, expensive restaurant. The venue has been chosen by the narrator's brother; Serge Lohman. Serge is a politician, a celebrity, able to conjour up a reservation at a restaurant where most people book months ahead. His wife, Babette, is beautiful and the successful couple have three children, including a son the same age as the narrator's only child and an adopted child. The narrator, Paul and his wife, Claire, have one son, Michel. At first, Paul seems a likeable and pleasant guy, humorous and intelligent. However, this is a novel in which you gradually become unsettled because all is not what it seems. Under the guise of two seemingly wealthy and happy couples, there are unresolved issues and past problems.

The main premise of the book is that, during the evening, it transpires that the two sons of the couples have been involved in something terrible. As the story unfolds, often using phone messages and flashbacks to unveil the troubling family dynamics and events, we learn of what happened. The book asks difficult questions - how far would a parent go to protect their child and how far are they responsible for their behaviour? I thought this is a remarkable read, incredibly thought provoking and well written. It would be a fantastic read for a book group, with much to discuss and is a fascinating personal read, especially if you are a parent.
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on 19 February 2015
This book was nominated as the next read for a book club I belong to. Before purchasing I noticed very mixed reviews on amazon but I bought as wanted to attend next meeting. Far more worthy books out there to choose from. Some things got lost in translation, the story was meandering, leaping back and forth and too many loose ends *spoiler alert - including wife's presumed miraculous recovery from mystery illness - perhaps the author simply forgot about these. Nonsensical storylines - in particular, the excuse that the nature of the wife's unspecified illness and protagonist's condition (also unspecified) were too personal to disclose just seemed like lazy writing to me. end spoiler alert* Found the characters hard to believe and unsympathetic. Have no idea where the author thought he was going with this book - should have stopped writing at page 1! Good for those who enjoyed but, for me, that's a few hours of my life that I'll never get back - caveat emptor!
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on 18 April 2014
This is a book about the difference between the natural and the social. Dining, as a symbol of this dichotomy, also works as a metaphor for reading - 'digesting' a book - and here the meal is designed to deliberately stick in one's craw. Koch uses a number of techniques borrowed from the thriller - a small number of significant characters, stuck in an interview situation, in darkness - as well as the layering in of the past to illuminate and revisit moments in the present. The narrator has a certain unreliability and there is some inversion of the usual stock character cliches. It is a gripping read while questions remain unanswered and somewhat illuminating as a character study. It has a good, detailed examination of its main topic and contains some interesting insights.
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