Country Focus: Netherlands (Nederland in Dutch). The name Holland is often used interchangeably with the Netherlands, but Holland is technically only a small region in the western part of country.
By Herman Koch
Translated by Sam Garrett
Originally published in the Netherlands as Het Diner by Ambo Anthos, 2009.
My edition: Hogarth, 2012.
Time period: Contemporary
I’m dying to tell you about every plot twist in Herman Koch’s riveting novel The Dinner, but you’d kill me for being a spoiler. Koch booby-trapped his plot so thoroughly that by page twenty I was already reeling. Here’s the barest of introductions:
Two couples, Paul and Claire and Serge and Babette, have arranged to have dinner at a ritzy restaurant. Paul, the snarky narrator, dreads the impending get-together but feels compelled to go through with the dinner date. He and Claire linger at a cafe, delaying the inevitable meeting. Paul savors his wife’s closeness and worries that after tonight they and their son Michel may no longer be a happy family.
Right from the beginning, I had so many questions (only a few of which I can mention so that I don’t give anything away): What is the relationship of these couples? Why do Paul and Claire show them such contempt? What have their teenage sons done?
I will say this: The Dinner is one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read in a long time. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk, American author of the subversive and violent Fight Club, might find a kindred spirit in Koch. The Dinner never loses momentum, Paul mesmerizes with his wise-ass prattle, and the ending doesn’t disappoint. Read it at the same time as friend so you can dish about each increasingly dark revelation.
Every year, Serge and Babette went to their house in the Dordogne with the children. They belonged to that class of Dutch people who think everything French is “great”: from the croissants to French bread with Camembert, from French cars (they themselves drove one of the top-end Peugeots) to French chansons and French films. At the same time, they failed to see that the local French population of the Dordogne fairly retched at the sight of Dutch people. Anti-Dutch slogans had been scrawled on the walls of many résidences secondaires, but according to [Serge], this was the work of “a tiny minority” – after all, wasn’t everyone nice to you when you went to a shop or a restaurant?