Touted as the “European Gone Girl“, the UBC read The Dinner by Herman Koch for our August pick. To start, we agreed setting the book up by comparing it to Gone Girl was a bad idea. The only thing they have in common is their morally corrupt and merciless characters.
The Dinner relates an evening out for the four main characters at an obnoxiously fancy restaurant – with plates of food with almost nothing on them and a waiter that you just want to hit – where they have met to discuss some unpleasant business involving their sons, whose crime is revealed about halfway through the novel (although the full extent of the moral corruption is saved until the end). The two men are brothers, one a politician and one an ex-history teacher, retired due to an unidentified psychological condition.
The girls of the UBC were general disappointed by this novel. We found the writing was generally strong and an easy read, but we got bored in the middle and found all the characters repugnant. We also found the non-disclosure of the two illnesses (Paul’s and Claire’s) to be frustrating, especially considering Paul’s must have been made up (no mental illness can be found via an amniocentesis). More information would have been appreciated.
That being said, the characters were show-stoppers for some of us. The novel is narrated by Paul, the ex-history teacher, and throughout the novel you see only his side of the story. Some members expected to read multiple viewpoints and were disappointed… but this may be because it was compared to Gone Girl which had two narrators. We found Paul was completely unreliable and were unsure if he was lying or crazy or just narrating his fantasies. For example, there is no way he could beat up the principal of his child’s school and not be arrested. We found Claire, Paul’s wife, to be the most morally corrupt character, but also the least explored and least developed. This not only affected our sense of mothers being essentially good, but was also puzzling because we did not have enough insight in to her to understand her choices. Ironically, the politician was the only character we found to be sane.
There were also some girls at the meeting who thought the big crime/secret would have been worse than it was. **SPOILER ALERT** What is worse than murder?!
The average rating for The Dinner was about a 3-3.5 with the general consensus that although both The Dinner and Gone Girl had disturbed characters and subject matter, Gillian Flynn aced it the non-feel-good novel, while Herman Koch did not.