Monday, November 4, 2013

Suspense for dinner

Paul and his wife, Claire, are getting ready to go out to a nice restaurant, where they will meet Paul’s brother Serge and Serge’s wife, Bettina. And this is apparently not a good thing. You can tell by the way Paul is fretting about whether or not to shave:

If you don’t scrape off the day’s stubble, you were too lazy to shave; two days’ beard immediately makes them wonder whether this is some new look; three days or more is just a step from total dissolution…Shaving is a statement as well. Apparently you found this evening significant enough to go to the trouble of shaving, you see the others thinking - in fact, shaving already puts you behind 1-0.

The Dinner by Herman Koch is a novel about one terrible dinner. Paul, Serge, Claire and Bettina talk about innocuous things as they eat their goat cheese appetizers and sip their Chablis. Their conversation remains on the surface, while awful and painful monsters swim in the depths. For the reader, the tension ramps up with every moment they delay mentioning whatever it is that’s really on their minds.

Our narrator, Paul, is fascinating but not likeable. He is weirdly fastidious, hypercritical, and seems obsessed with the idea that he is locked in a competition to the death with his brother, of which only he is aware. Or is he? As Paul’s comments and observations grow more and more nasty, we wonder what the others are thinking.

The Dinner is an intense experience, a sort of horror novel in which nothing happens but eating, thinking, remembering, and talking. If you think those things can’t be horrifying, give The Dinner a try -- it gripped me until I turned the last appalling page.

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