woensdag 16 september 2015

Herman Koch: The Dinner


The Dinner is a novel by Dutch writer Herman Koch. It is translated into English but I obviously read it in Dutch.
It has 301 pages and I got it at the Boekenfestijn.

 “A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened... Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified - by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.”

This was a page turner; the prose is easy to read and the story is very intriguing.

It all starts with a normal couple going to a restaurant with the man’s brother and sister-in-law.
Gradually, as the story enfolds, you lose all respect for the characters; as you get to know them, you become fearful off them.
The main character (Paul) starts out as a suburban teacher, loving father and husband but he changes into a masochistic, brutal and violent man. He always was an unreliable narrator but he becomes increasingly unstable too.
And that’s how this horrible, cruel event they are talking about came to be. If you beat the school director to pulp what kind of example is that for your son? But if you cover this up, what do you mean to say to him by that?

Their decision in the end is awful and horrible but also very human; it makes you lose a bit of hope for humanity though.
This is definitely Koch delivering us social criticism on the way parents behave towards the responsibility of their children’s actions.
I don’t have kids yet, but I think every parent wants to instill at least a minimum of morals and accountability in them. And I would like to think that I would set an example by my own actions.
But in the end, this is a ‘what if’ discussion; something you can only think about because you didn’t go through it. And unless you go through it, your answer will never be your ultimate truth or action.

This novel is about nature vs. nurture, love and morals, protecting your child, the extent to which we can blame parents for the misdeeds of their children and the nature of evil and love. It’s about mental illness and the right to deny treatment but also the need to be in control of one’s own actions.

I have a few criticisms though.
Why would they  discuss something like this in a crowded restaurant where everyone on the tables next to them is able to hear them?
Chapter 13 about peeing and penises is pretty unnecessary and just meant to provoke the reader.
And I was disappointed Koch seems to blame Paul’s mental illness for a lot of his actions. I think that sends the wrong message.

Happy reading and I’ll see you tomorrow.