Rated Reads

The Dinner

by Herman Koch

Rated: High

Paul and Claire Lohman meet Paul’s brother, Serge, and his wife, Babette, for dinner. Serge, well known because of his candidacy for a high public office, arranges a meal at a fine restaurant where the waiting list is usually very long. Of course, Serge can get a table anywhere and anytime he wants one, a fact that grates on his brother the narrator.

The dinner proceeds from aperitif all the way through to digestif, with readers learning the details of each carefully selected, pretentious menu item presented to the diners, as well as Paul’s reactions to the restaurant and the food and employees there. But lurking behind each course and each interaction between the couples is the weighty reason they are there: “to talk about their children.” It is clear that something very bad has been happening, and it only starts to become clear exactly what that is well into the novel. I’d hate to say too much because any details would spoil the revelations and the perfectly paced tension that Koch lets unfold.

Each player at this dinner has slightly different motivations, different goals and plans, and differing levels of knowledge, which they aren’t necessarily letting on to the others, even husbands to wives and vice versa. The stakes are simply too high. But by the end, cards have been played and the issue resolved, though certainly not to the satisfaction of everyone involved — even the readers. For the issue is one that is disturbing.

The book is a fascinating study of the lengths to which some people will go to protect their children, as well as ethics and morality, and would make an excellent book group discussion. It certainly gave me plenty to consider.

Rated: High, for about 20 uses of strong language and other occasions of mild and moderate language. There are also brief references to violence and sex.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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