27 January 2014

The Dinner, by Herman Koch

I pretty much hated this one. A friend recommended it to me, and then I heard it compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (which I quite liked), so I figured I'd check it out. It is not like Gone Girl at all. I have no idea why people even draw that comparison, except maybe that it's bound to increase Koch's sales. So, basically, this is the story of two couples (two brothers and their wives) who get together for dinner. It gradually emerges that they are to discuss a problem, and after awhile we gather than it's a problem related to their sons. But this is no Carnage (maybe that's the problem, is that I kept wishing it was because that was funny and I liked it). Instead, we get all kinds of flashbacks that tell us more and more about the main character and the backstory to the evening as it builds towards its "shocking" denouement.

Except that I didn't find it shocking. I found it somewhat plodding, actually, and awfully contrived. The more you learn about the narrator, the less sense his relationships with other characters make. And the less you like him. Instead of becoming more human and complex, he becomes increasingly ridiculous, a collections of traits that are evermore lurid. The author seems to be straining to imagine what it would be like to be such a person, and the result is completely unconvincing. This cartoonishness ripples out onto the other characters, and for me at least, the whole thing falls apart.

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