Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Unhappiness can't stand silence

I'd heard things about Herman Koch's The Dinner for awhile before I eventually picked up the book.  Mostly that the book is about terrible people. At dinner. It's important to know that they are terrible people, not just unlikeable. I mean, they're that too. Unlikeable and terrible. One of the NYTimes reviews compares it in some ways to American Psycho and that came to mind a few times* while I was considering what I just read.

I was going to try to take a step back and explain what the book is about. Except I can't come up with a way to do that without introducing a whole host of spoilers. So let me try to be general. The book is sort of about how far are parents willing to go to protect their kids. But it's also about "hey look at these terrible people be terrible, regardless of other circumstances." It's about four people meeting for dinner to discuss their kids. And to discuss, to quote the back of my copy "a single horrific act - an act that has triggered a police investigation." If it were me, I don't know what I'd be discussing such a sensitive topic in a public setting. But maybe terrible people just have different priorities.

Alright, I'm getting stuck on that part, I know. And to be fair, I don't think the fact that the characters are terrible makes this a bad book. It doesn't make it a book I want to re-read any time soon. I don't think you need to wish you could be BFFs with a character for a book to be good. Though likewise, I don't know how much time I really want to spend with characters that are irredeemable assholes**.

I like the structure of the story being told over the course of a meal, with a number of flashbacks to explain how our narrator, Paul Lohman, came to this uncomfortable meeting. There's also a nice dose of unreliable narrator, as everything is seen through his distorted point of view and, as if I hadn't made it clear, he is terrible.

So there you go. It wasn't a badly written book. It also isn't a book I'm going to pick up again.

GIF Rating:

*But this book never made me feel physically ill. American Psycho continues to own that distinction so, good for it? I guess?
**I also sort of believe all of the think-pieces about how women need characters to be likable, while men are more evolved and can enjoy mean characters are (usually) misogynistic junk. The NYTimes review I linked above at least goes with a new angle, saying it's a problem with North American readers as compared to European readers. I still think it's sort of a stupid argument (look how dark and edgy I am liking unlikable characters) at least it's less sexist. Also there's another NYTimes review that is...less enthusiastic about it.

Title quote from page 6

Koch, Herman. The Dinner. Hogarth, 2009.