The Dinner by Herman Koch

imagesThe Dinner is a bestselling novel from Dutch author Herman Koch. It was a bestseller in Europe and now it is on the New York Times Best Seller List.

It’s a fantastic novel about a dinner at an unnamed lavish Dutch restaurant attended by two brothers and their wives, one of the brothers is a popular politician. Paul, the narrator, is very misanthropic and unreliable, he loves more humble places and detests the idea of haute cuisine, while his brother, Serge ( the politician,) loves.

Paul and Serge’s sons have done something wrong, but (at the beginning) we don’t know what. This is the reason for the gathering, otherwise these four are never together. But as the night goes on, the civility begins to disintegrate at often darkly funny ways. It turns out to be a very creepy book, very different from the beginning.

There’s not much that Paul doesn’t have an opinion of and it’s usually a negative one, but since the book is called The Dinner, I’ll focus on his opinions about high end food, which I oppose to but still found funny and intriguing.

Most of the indictments are of the the restaurant and their plating and it’s endless explanations where the food comes from. The best examples of this is on pages 43-49:

The first thing that struck you about Claire’s plate was its vast emptiness. Of course, I’m well aware that, in the better restaurants, quality takes precedence over quantity, but you have voids and then you have voids. The void here, that part of the plate on which no food at all was present, had clearly been raised to a matter of principal.

It was as though the empty plate was challenging you do say something about it, to go to the open kitchen and demand an explanation. “You wouldn’t even dare!” the plate said, and laughed in your face.

Paul reminded me of another misanthropic fictional character with opinions on everything including food: Hugo Whittier in Kate Christensen’s novel, The Epicure’s Lament. But unlike Paul, food was and cooking was the only thing he liked and his M.F.K. Fisher books. I was reminded of Hugo, when I went to Craigie on Main for the first time and sat the bar and enjoyed a tasting menu. They had some cookbooks and food books on a shelf behind the bar. I had never seen that before and one of the books was by M.F.K. Fisher.

(The New York Times)


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