Date Completed: 6/9/2016
My goodness. Many of the reviews of this book claim that it is a European Gone Girl, but I would say it is so much darker than that.
The premise is that of two Dutch brothers and their wives sitting down to a fancy meal. Each family has teenage boys, boys who hang out together quite a bit, it seems. Now, the action of the story plays out over the course of the meal (pun intended), utilizing flashbacks and thought processes to reveal the meat of the back story to the plot. It’s hard to say much without giving everything away, so if you would like to read a sick psychological thriller, quit reading my book review now. I’ll try to leave out any spoilers. Ultimately the reader finds out some horrid things about the three boys, and the parents decide to take action to mediate the situation.
This book really calls into question humanity. Some central themes to the plot are capital punishment, mental health, parental rights and responsibilities, homelessness and other social issues, politics and campaigns, and so much more that just left me questioning what it means to be human and whether I can really trust anyone. In that way, it felt like Gone Girl, but although the main character in Gone Girl did fool everyone, the people who were most affected were her immediate family. In The Dinner, although Koch focused the drama on the immediate family, readers were aware that ultimately society was affected.
In addition to reading this book, yesterday I also decided to watch The Game, which is yet another psychological thriller that makes me question who I can really trust in the world. However, I think what makes The Dinner truly disgusting is that parents are deciding what’s best for their children, and those decisions are going to impact how their children view the world and each other forever. According to this book, every action and inaction on the part of the parent leads to the child developing concepts of how to move through society, what is right or wrong. And the possibilities are endless as to what the true outcomes are, a quality I admire in a novel. Lead the reader to believe something, but leave the conclusion open so the reader questions everything. That takes skill, to lead someone to a conclusion but to let them actually make the statement themselves. It’s powerful and also manipulative in a way, but I think that’s what makes psychological thrillers so successful.
Herman Koch is the author of eight novels and has been published in more than 25 countries. The Dinner was translated to English in 2012. He lives in Amsterdam.