Herman Koch - The Dinner (4 stars)

Herman Koch - The Dinner

Gripping Dutch bestseller deals with sticky family drama


An English translation of a Dutch bestseller, The Dinner is audacious, bone dry in its humour and a gripping addition to the disturbed-teen-destroys-family genre. The difference here is the lengths to which the family will stoop in order to keep itself together. Two brothers prepare for a dinner with their wives at an exclusive Amsterdam restaurant, a terrible secret threatening to destroy one’s candidacy for Prime Minister and more besides.

Narrated by retired teacher Paul, whose irritation with his sibling is evident immediately, every aspect of the dreadful meal, from the manager’s over-elaborate descriptions of their food onwards, is rendered with detailed distaste, the sense of imminent disaster never far from the surface. This is Herman Koch’s main achievement but Paul’s unreliability and the novel’s gradual drip feed of key information feels too manipulative, even if there’s an undoubted pleasure in being toyed with so skilfully.

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