28 Sep Lady on Literature, Laura, on The Dinner
“The Dinner”…. a dark and disturbing read with a cast of increasingly nasty fictional characters, brings a whole new meaning to “Guess whose coming to dinner?’ This is a novel that sticks with you, unsettles you and compels discussion. In this regard, it was a great choice for book club. In fact I forced a fellow LOL’er (Kathy M) to finish it, even though she didn’t want to – just because I needed to talk about what the hell I had just read.
During the aperitif, I admit I was on Paul’s side. I could identify with him as he ruthlessly skewered the pretension of the swank, trendy restaurant and his seemingly shallow, insincere brother. It was all so superficial – I got that. To me, his mocking and meandering musings were almost comical, although some of the other gals found them to be more tiresome than funny, particularly that ominously hovering pinkie finger of the Maitre’D.
Other LOL’ers also claimed to have seen the real, the loathsome Paul from the very first bite. But I did not. I naively believed him to be the persona he initially presented – a devoted husband and father and a rational, moderate (well…at least, sane) individual. But even before the “main course” was served, I was beginning to doubt my preliminary judgement. And that is how it went through the entire book. Continually, I was forced to re-evaluate my conclusions in light of further evidence, masterfully revealed, layer-by-layer, by the Dutch author, Herman Koch.
But by the time the dame blanche had melted into the fancy linen tablecloth, and the ending had unfolded, there were still many questions left unanswered. And I think perhaps that is exactly what Koch intended – food for thought!
During our LOL meeting, we got swept away by the psychology of Paul’s vaguely described medical condition. But in my humble opinion, ascribing his evilness (and that of his son) to a biological defect diminishes the novel somehow and I really don’t think it was necessary. In fact, it felt contrived to me. Personally, I think this book was much more about the measures a person is prepared to take to protect his or her family. You love your kids. You want to instil in them a strong set of values. But what happens when things go awry? How far are you willing to go? To sweep things under the mat? To keep secrets? To protect them from appropriate consequences for their actions, particularly if those consequence will devastate the rest of their lives.
For me, this book was much more about that moral dilemma, than it was about genetics. After all, Paul’s dear wife, Claire – the book’s most disturbing figure as far as I was concerned – was a willing and conscious participant in the heinous violence of her son. These reprehensible actions…from a woman who apparently had no known mental affliction.
In conclusion, I can’t say that I enjoyed the book. But, I can’t say, “I’m wish I hadn’t read it” either.