The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

wow… just, wow. what a book.

it was recommended to me by a bookstore clerk with exceptional taste at the Bookshop Santa Cruz (thank you! thank you!). it’s not the sort of book i would normally pick up, but it was fabulous.

we meet our protagonist Paul in a snooty restaurant in an unnamed Dutch city–a restaurant so snooty that there’s more space on the plate than food, and every morsel on it has a history the waiter feels compelled to relate. the sort of place only the very morally bent could feel entitled to. Paul is thoroughly disdainful of this level of snoot, preferring the restaurant across the street, the one for “normal people”. except that “normal people” is exactly what he and his fellow diners turn out not to be.

there’s a surprise at the core of this book, and i don’t want to give it away, so suffice it to say that the reveal is quite exquisitely done and entirely germane to the rest of the book. a lot of writers would use this sort of thing as a titillating splash of red in a canvas otherwise gray, but Koch is way, way better than that. that bit of surprise red colors everything that precedes and follows it in an entirely natural way, growing and creeping like wine spilled on a tablecloth.

plus, the suspense of this book is thoroughly unbearable. it’s beautifully plotted so that one guesses at the facts just before they’re stated/implied/inferred, and yet they’re revealed in a way that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence. what a treat, to be assumed to be an intelligent reader.

i love the gaps in this book, the things that aren’t said.

if you get the edition with all the Extra Libris stuff in the back, do read it. it’s quite interesting and illuminating stuff (well, except the discussion questions, which i always find a bore). the interview with the author is fascinating, though.

read it! read it! read it!