What a nasty yet unputdownable novel! Book group report …

I didn’t mean to leave such a gap between posting – but that first week back at school is always a killer.  The kittens don’t help either, those attention-seeking little bundles of fluff!

Still, I have been reading and have more books read to write up, which is a good thing as I’ve just started reading a 950 page novel – From Here to Eternity by James Jones. It’s an army novel set in peacetime USA before WWII. I’ve only read 65 pages so far, and it’s a little hard going – lots of army terminology – but I hope it’ll click soon.

Meanwhile, on to our book group’s choice of book for September …

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Two couples go out to dinner at a rather posh restaurant.  Brothers and their wives. One brother, Serge – a politician, a candidate to lead his party, the other – our narrator Paul, a teacher who was asked to leave his school.

They order, and their appetisers arrive:

‘The crayfish are dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions,’ said the manager: he was at Serge’s plate now, pointing with his pinkie.  ‘And these are chanterelles from the Vosges.’ The pinkie vaulted over the crayfish to point out two brown toadstools, cut lengthwise; the ‘chanterelles’ look as though they had been uprooted only a few minutes ago: what was sticking to the bottom, I figured, could only be dirt.

It was a well-groomed hand, as I’d established while the manager was uncorking the bottle Chablis Serge had ordered. Despite my earlier suspicions, there was nothing for him to hide: neat cuticles without hangnails, the nail itself trimmed short, no rings – it looked freshly washed, no signs of anything chronic. For the hand of a stranger, though, I felt as though it was coming too close to our food; it hovered less than an inch above the crayfish, and the pinkie itself came even closer, almost brushing the chanterelles.

I wasn’t sure I would be able to sit still when that hand, with its pinkie, was floating over my own plate, but for the sake of a pleasant evening I knew it would be better to restrain myself.

Paul is seething underneath at the pretentious maître d’, and you can sense that he may have anger management problems.

Although they’ve come out to a public place to eat, the two couples have a very serious and private discussion to come. Their teenage sons will be the subject – they’ve done something – something bad…

This much you can get from the blurb. It is hard to discuss this book in details without spoilers but I can assure you that Koch whips up the tension and piles on the levels of ghastliness throughout the dinner.

There’s not a single character to like.  Serge is too self-important, Paul is angry and jealous. Serge’s wife Babette is a trophy wife, and Paul’s wife Claire is, underneath her smiling exterior, a steely, manipulative cow who will do anything for her son.

It’s fair to say that although most of us found The Dinner compelling reading, all of us found it very distasteful, and downright nasty in places.  It made an ideal book to discuss at book group through being an issue-based novel with nature vs nurture at its heart – there being a key scene in this regard in a bike shop. This was especially so, as some years ago we read We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver; there were plenty of points of comparison and contrast between the two.

We also had a good chuckle about pretentious restaurants as represented by the lobster on the trade paperback cover, and that tables near the toilets always seem to feature in books about food.  We also remembered other books we’d read where food is important, like John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure.

The Dinner is easy to read. It was a great book group choice – provided you can fully discuss it with spoilers, however it didn’t leave us wanting to read more by its author necessarily.  (7.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Giveaway from the publisher. To explore books mentioned further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Dinner by Herman Koch translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett – pub Aug 2012, Atlantic Books, paperback 320 pages.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (Serpent’s Tail Classics) by Lionel Shriver
The Debt To Pleasure by John Lanchester

8 thoughts on “What a nasty yet unputdownable novel! Book group report …

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Interesting review Annabel and I had read that this book was not peopled by pleasant people. Of course, you don’t have to have nice characters in a book, but there has to be some point of entry into the story and so I wonder what it was with this book – or was it just a keenness to find out what the boys had done?!

  2. farmlanebooks says:

    I enjoyed this book and think I had similar feelings to you, but I would love to read another book by this author – it wasn’t perfect, but it was so compelling. I am a fan of dark books though 🙂

  3. Guy Savage says:

    This made my best of 2013. Loved it, but then again I prefer dark. Have you read Henry Sutton’s Get Me Out of Here? If not, it’s recommended (along the nasty lines).

    • gaskella says:

      Dark for me too – don’t have to like them though! The Henry Sutton is waiting on my shelves, I’ve heard good things about it – thanks for the recommendation.

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