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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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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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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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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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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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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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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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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
`The Dinner' is easily digested in a day, in fact I read it on the beach and felt jolly glad of the sausages, bacon, cooked on a driftwood fire simply served, that I had really enjoyed. The dramatic dinner in question is held at the most pompously pretentious of restaurants, each course overly introduced by a manager who cannot help waving his `pinkie' over every morsel detailing its provenance and daring the diners not to appreciate it all. Prissily patronising the patrons. The cost of this evening is terribly high, unbelievably, laughably so, in financial, career and relationship terms.

By happy co incidence tonight Herman Koch, the author who is also a tv producer, was being interviewed on Radio Four's 'Front Row'. There are certainly some Oscar worthy acting performances from his characters. He explains that his book is like a play, in several acts, each corresponding to a course of the meal. It can't actually be performed as such as our narrator, Paul, is also telling us the back-story, and to complicate matters, he is unreliable, prone to fudging issues, he also has his own demons. The given theme is middle class parenting and how far would you go in order to protect your child's future, despite the knowledge that cannot be ignored, that here both boys, cousins, have carried out a dreadful crime.

The foursome held hostage by good manners and the audience of other diners are brothers Serge and Paul with their respective wives Babette and Claire. Serge is set for great things, perhaps to be the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He has celebrity status, a golden glow, but he is at a crossroads. Babette is weeping throughout and with good reason. Claire, Paul's wife is attractive, warm, funny and strong. She has a very close bond with her son Michel. Paul is 'non active' which is probably something lost in translation, he is on long term sick leave from his teaching career. As the events unfold certainties are swept away and the true natures of the four are revealed. Exciting, frightening and surprising things happen, there are huge twists at the end, which should keep any book club in discussion for a good while.

It was great to have an early chance to read this book, translated from the Dutch, and to get a taste of another culture from the inside. A dark modern day tragedy resonating with classical themes, it looks set to storm our charts and will be well received by those who enjoy family dilemmas and the chilly winds of schadenfreude. I loved it. Now I'm waiting for Sommerhaus mit Swimmingpool to be translated.
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Paul and Claire meet for dinner with Paul's brother Serge and his wife Babette quite often, and Paul usually finds them uncomfortable occasions, having a contempt born out of jealousy for his brother's successful political career. But on this occasion, things are more tense than usual because the two families need to talk about an incident involving their children. When it becomes obvious they're not going to agree on how to handle the situation, the tension begins to grow and the conventions of polite behaviour begin to fall apart. The question the book asks is - how far would you go to protect your children?

The book gets off to a flying start, with some great observational humour as Paul, the narrator, looks forward apprehensively to the evening ahead. Koch is great at 'showing' rather than 'telling' and we learn as much about Paul's relationship with his wife and brother from reading between the lines as from what he actually says. But this is only the first layer of the onion - as the book progresses, outward appearances are stripped away until eventually each character is laid bare to us in all their prejudices and flaws. And a pretty unsavoury bunch they are, with Paul himself turning out to be far more complex than he gives us to believe at the beginning. The whole thing slowly becomes very dark, and though it's clearly heading for a dramatic climax, it's not at all obvious what that will be until it arrives.

I read Koch's Summer House with Swimming Pool a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The twisted morality and dark storyline mixed with some great black humour to make an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The focus was on the father and asked the same question - what would you do to protect your children? I've noticed that many people who read The Dinner first found Summer House a bit disappointing because it trod a similar path. Reading them in reverse, I found The Dinner a little disappointing for the same reason.

The Dinner is one of those books where it's important to know as little as possible going in to get the full effect of the various surprises, so I'll say no more about the plot. But there were a couple of other things that made me like it a little less than Summer House. Though there is some good observational humour in The Dinner, it doesn't have quite the edge as in Summer House. In it, the humour is often cruel, but wickedly close to what we maybe all think but don't say from time to time - and then feel appalled at ourselves for thinking it. In this one, I didn't get that feeling of delicious recognition and guilt - the humour was more straightforward. But the big difference - and I'll have to be a little oblique to avoid spoilers - is that there is some small degree of moral justification for the actions in Summer House, but absolutely none that I could accept in The Dinner. Therefore while I had some sympathy for some characters in Summer House, I had none at all for any of them in The Dinner.

But the mild disappointment in this one is only because of the comparison. In itself, this is a good dark psychological thriller, where the quality of the writing and characterisation helps to get the reader past the lack of credibility at some parts of the story - for most of the time. Personally, I found the ending asked me to suspend my disbelief a little too much, but this didn't destroy my enjoyment of the book overall. The translation from the original Dutch is again by Sam Garrett, who does another very fine job with it. I'll be interested to see where Koch's dark imagination takes us in future...
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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 July 2014
A very readable and beautifully structured novel which raises some interesting issues - do children learn from our example, the nature of crime, the extent of loyalty to those we love. Not psychologically true (would a mother encourage her child to commit murder? would a wife be so in love with a husband who is a borderline psychotic and has been unemployed for ten years?) but forgivable because of the well crafted structure: a single event - the dinner - intertwined with flashbacks slowly revealing backstory and motivations which keep you reading. Also some interesting glimpses into Dutch values: just like the rest of us, dislike of insincere politicians and pretentious restaurants. Recommended.
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