Pairing Books with Movies: The Dinner

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Dinner
by Herman Koch

What a whirlwind novel! The whole story is told from the point of view of Paul, a middle aged man on his way to dinner with his wife, his brother Serge and his sister-in-law. The quartet is meeting at a fancy restaurant and as dinner progresses we learn the reason for the gathering. 

Without including any spoilers I can say that the book is dark, but so good. It plays with the ideas of nature vs. nurture and sibling rivalry in a fascinating way. Serge is expected to be the next Prime Minister and his fame attracts additional attention to their table. As Paul’s patience shortens and each new course is served the tension mounts. I loved the details of the book. The interactions with the waiter, the descriptions of the food, all of it added to the pleasure of reading.

It reminded me a bit of We Need to Talk About Kevin in the way that an unreliable narrator is talking about the present day and also flashing back to past action in the story. We learn things in bits and pieces. The reader has no idea if Paul is skewing the story to show his family in a better light. We also don’t fully understand his wife’s position on everything at first. 

The relationship between the siblings is both tense and primal. We don’t ever really think our siblings have changed from those individuals we grew up with. We see our siblings in a completely different way than the rest of the world does. We know their secrets and their weaknesses. In some ways we see them more clearly, but we also bring our own immature prejudices to the relationship because we have a shared history when we were both sensitive and vulnerable.
There are books where the characters are not likeable and that ruins it, but I think often that just means the writing isn’t as good as it should be. This novel is full of unlikeable characters but that had no impact on my enjoyment. 

BOTTOM LINE: I honestly couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing in one day. Highly recommended for whenever you’re in the mood for a dark twisty look at family relationships.

Pairing Books with Movies: The Good Son (1993) is a perfect pairing with The Dinner. It stars Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood as two young cousins who become friends but then one of them starts to show signs of violence. It’s creepy and shares some similar themes with the book.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I loved that book (amazing on audio). Not only did it provide very snarky commentary on the upper class, but it would just sling these grenades at you when you least expected it! I'd be listening and then go "WHAT DID HE JUST SAY??". He's got a new one out that I want I get my hands on.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

A friend just told me about that movie and how I should see it. I loved The Dinner - audio was great.

Brona said...

The Dinner is quite extraordinary isn't it?
So dark and disturbing and compelling.

Mr Books hasn't enjoyed his latest book quite as much though, so I'm not sure if I will read it or not.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - Those grenades were so good!

Diane - It's a movie?!? I had no idea.

Brona - I haven't heard anything about his new one, but now I'm curious.

Leslie @ This is the Refrain said...

I didn't love The Dinner, but I'm intrigued by The Good Son! I had never heard of it and that cover image does not match the description!!

thecuecard said...

Oh I didn't realize The Dinner was supposed to be that good. I'll have to go get a copy. thanks!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Lu - It is the creepiest movie!

thecuecard - I seriously couldn't put it down.

Anonymous said...

The Good Son is the creepiest movie ever. I cannot look at Culkin the same way now. Great pairing.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

52booksorbust - I know! He is terrifying in that movie.