Free Range Reading

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Published on Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Not Much on the Plate, But Plenty to Digest

The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated from Dutch to English in 2012, was an international best-seller.  At the heart of it is the story of a family whose utter moral bankruptcy factors chillingly into their peculiar formula for happiness. 

The story centers around a five course dinner for four at a preposterously posh restaurant in Amsterdam, where the average patron might wait six months for a table.   A pretentious waiter describes the pedigree of each serving’s meager morsels pointing to them haughtily with his pinky finger.  “This is the Syrian goat cheese with toasted Tuscan pecans over shaved Roman lamb’s lettuce.”  (I just made that up.)   

The dinner party is comprised of Paul, a history teacher on “medical leave”, his wife Claire, Paul’s older brother Serge, a shoe-in candidate for next Prime Minister of Holland, and Serge’s stunning wife Babette.  Both couples have 15 year old sons. The purpose of this dinner is to discuss what to do about a grotesque crime committed together by the young cousins, which has outraged the nation. To the family, the larger concern is what might happen to the boys’ future should they be caught.  The reader is asked to explore just how far one might go to protect their criminally violent children.   

Paul is the narrator. At first he seems justified in his comically misanthropic views. Fun is poked at his pompous sibling, mock civility of the snooty restaurant, (perhaps society in general), middle-class values, and Dutch politics. 

As the meal wears on, the reader realizes that Paul’s anger is pathological and that he is a sick and violent man with dangerous ideas that are not his exclusive province. Eventually, Paul’s unreliability as a narrator becomes horrifyingly clear and the reader’s view of characters shifts. 

Prepare yourself to not find a single likeable character in this novel. Yet, the book is well-written, poses some seriously interesting questions, and if you're in a book group, there's a lot here to discuss.  

Comments (9)5776

9 comments on article "The Dinner by Herman Koch"


2/25/2014 8:08 PM

Good to have a review on this book. It sounds much more interesting than I thought it would.


2/25/2014 9:06 PM

I was so disappointed in this book. I just hated all the characters so much. Paul was probably the biggest disappointment. He unraveled quickly through the book though the book itself is not fast moving. I would have liked to read what you thought of it too.

Jeanne McCombs

3/2/2014 1:44 PM

I certainly found the characters to be an odious lot. I guess Serge was the only one with a conscience, but he ended up caving in, too.

I think it was interesting to see how a supposedly liberal-minded family could be so tolerant of Nazi-like behavior.

It's chilling to think that people like this walk could be walking among us,

Rebecca Booth

5/25/2017 1:38 AM

Herman Koch the dinner post was really good and informative. Well written by the paper writers. I hope to hear more from them soon. This translated book is great, all the information and the recipes are great. Thanks again.

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6/7/2017 12:43 PM

Herman Koch thank you for sharing about the great dinner. I personally appreciate what you have shared in here, this is really informative as well as pretty exciting, thank you keep updating me with more though.

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