Review: The Dinner, Herman Koch

It’s no secret that I am more than a bit food-oriented. I’d seen The Dinner in Waterstones a while back and was drawn in just by the title, and then by the blurb. I’ve since read good things about it: the Wall Street Journal likened it to Gone Girl, which I haven’t read but is one of THE books of the year so far. So when I saw it pop up for ridiculously cheap on the Kindle store, I snapped it up.

I have to say, though, I was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed it well enough, but I didn’t find it really that compelling. This might be because it has been translated from its original Dutch (apparently I’m into European literature this summer), but at times I found it a bit stilted. The structure was also quite hard to follow – lots of unannounced jumping around. Obviously this isn’t an unusual literary technique and it doesn’t usually throw me, but something about Koch’s structure just didn’t grab me.

I also thought that the novel seemed to try quite hard to Deal With A Lot of Issues. This wasn’t particularly subtle: there was overt commentary on family dynamics, fame, politics, even dining habits (which I did actually find very interesting). Again, this isn’t something I’m particularly averse to but it felt a bit hardgoing and relentless.

In terms of a moral dilemma, Koch does present an interesting one. It’s difficult to know who to side with throughout the novel, which is always a good sign that each character is nicely rounded and fully “fleshed out.” Like I said, I felt that the flashbacks sometimes took away from the tension he was building. I much preferred the scenes that actually took place at the dinner table, which balanced the tension between the life of a public figure, the etiquette of and social minefield that is fine dining, and much much more, very well. I can see why he needed the flashbacks, but like I said, the structure just didn’t really work for me. It is a great what would you do kind of read, though, and it’s definitely thought-provoking.

If you want to read it, The Dinner is currently featured in Amazon’s Summer Sale so you can get it for 99p for your Kindle. I would recommend it at that price for sure ’cause it’s an interesting read – it just wasn’t all that I really wanted it to be.

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