Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner

Author: Herman Kock
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 13, 2013
Pages: 304 (E-book Edition)

     The premise of this novel is very intriguing.  Two bothers and their wives meet for dinner at a posh Dutch restaurant to discuss a serious incident involving both couples' teenagers.    One brother is a candidate for Prime Minister which ratchets up the intensity of the whole affair:  bad publicity could derail his career.  The entire novel is set around the extravagant meal its pretentious presentation.

     The main question raised by this story include how far should parents go to protect their children from the consequences of their bad choices?   The Dinner never really answers that question, although the choices these parents make are as equally bad or worse than their children's.  There is tremendous potential for character development here, which within the confines of a one evening timeline never really occurs.  Through flashbacks and reminiscences the sibling rivalry between the two brothers is hinted at but their conflict never erupts or resolves.  The troubles within both marriages are implied but never developed in depth either.  The fact that one of the children is an adopted African orphan raises the whole issue of nature versus nurture in regards to violent teen behavior.  This is another theme which is side-swiped but never confronted head-on.  Mental illness and its relationship to violent behavior is brushed over.  I think that the author spent entirely too much time describing the intricacies of the elaborate meal and neglected some real issues which were begging for more development.  

     Many of these same issues: genetics and violence, consequences of violent behavior and parental responsibility for teens are much better developed in William Landay's Defending Jacob.  Unless you are really into food, I would recommend that book over The Dinner.

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