Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

When a Mom says these words, it is usually a positive thing, an indicator that a Mom is expecting her child to be responsible and independent: "He doesn't have to wait for his Mom to tell him everything. He's old and wise enough to decide for himself."  However, in the story of  The Dinner by Herman Koch, those same words written on page 271 and spoken by a Mom named Claire indicate something ominous. Claire wants her only child, a teenager named Michel, to hide his wrong doings by any means necessary.

One steady theme in the story is sibling rivalry and this is the focus of the narrator who is also Claire's husband, Paul.  Paul, an unemployed teacher with a mystery illness resents his brother, Serge, a popular Dutch politician hoping to campaign for the post of Prime Minister.  The characters; Claire and Paul, and Serge and Babette; meet at an up-scale restaurant for dinner then there are flashbacks explaining why all the characters have come together and how each one is connected. The chapters in the story are divided into parts starting with Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert and ending with Digestif. This is a well written story even though it starts off slow in the Apertif section. The story is not for every reader; it is dark. All the characters in The Dinner set in Holland are horrid and the writer makes you dislike them all.

The story makes you think, What would I do in a situation like this?  Would I cover up my child's wrong doing by any means necessary?  Many people do just that.  I am thinking about a teenager in Brunswick, Georgia, De'Marquise Elkins, who tried to rob a mother and ended up murdering her baby. That teenager's Mom, Karimah Elkins, his sister and his Aunt tried to cover for him.  The story makes you think about genetics.  It is not clear if Paul's illness was a mental one but whatever it was, I believe readers are supposed to think the child is not totally responsible for his behavior, that Paul and his son Michel suffer from the same illness.

I have read some interesting books in October.  I finished reading Bel Canto and The Dinner. I have moved on to Open and Shut by  David Rosenfelt which is actually our book club selection for November.

Listen to the writer Herman Koch on NPR.

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