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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Dinner: A 300-Page Troll

For some reason, Dutch writer Herman Koch's novel, The Dinner, is being hailed as the European Gone Girl. It's a sad, misleading piece of marketing. Yes, the characters are depraved — but this has novel has none of the craft, fun, or inventiveness that made Gone Girl so awesome.

Indeed, the best way I can describe The Dinner is as a 300-page troll. The characters are despicable —so much so, it's almost as if Koch wrote this entirely to piss off his readers. He spends 300 pages just pressing your buttons at every turn, and he clearly knows he's doing it. His characters spout political nonsense and literally hit each other with frying pans, seemingly for the sole reason of making sure the reader will despise them. And that's all before "the decision," which is the whole point of the novel. But I don't want to spoil the ending, if for some reason, you decide to subject yourself to this steaming pile, as well.

The story is this: In Holland, two couples (the two men are brothers) meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. We soon learn that their sons (cousins, obviously) have engaged in some sort of very bad behavior — though it's not until after page 100 that we find out what, exactly, they've done. So for the first third of the novel, we get to see them sitting and having appetizers and stuff. Snooze. On the plus side, I learned what an aperitif is.

The rest of the novel is dedicated to backstory about our narrator Paul. His brother (and dinnermate) Serge is the leading candidate to be the new prime minister of Holland, and so the decision will have ramifications beyond their little depraved family. But so the whole point is, what the heck are they going to do about the very bad thing their sons engaged in?

So, yes, The Dinner is a total dud — and not just a dud, a book I actively hated. I rarely take such a negative tone in writing about a book — even one I didn't like — because there's almost always something to like in a novel. Not here, and so I write as public service announcement, so maybe I can help prevent you from making the same mistake I did. (My only consolation is that I got this as an ebook from the library, so I didn't spend a red cent on this travesty of a novel.)

16 comments:

  1. Your description of the first third makes it sound like a novelization of the film "My Dinner with Andre" which I hate with a red hot, fiery passion.

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    1. Not familiar with that film, but I can tell you that the first third (and all) of The Dinner, I also hate with red hot, fiery passion. :)

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  2. I love that you're being absolutely honest here. I've heard so many mixed reviews on this one. Aaagh. I don't know whether to read it or not. For now, I'll take your advice and skip it. There are so many other great books to get to :) Thanks for a great review!

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    1. Don't do it! Theory: Same people who liked this book are the same people who say Fifty Shades of Grey was their favorite book of last year. #snobalert! ;)

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  3. OH - this came in the nick of time. The Dinner is third in my reading pile (borrowed from the library, so I didn't spend anything). I guess maybe I'll pass...I just don't have an appetite for depraved characters.

    (And speaking of such, Gone Girl is still on my TBR list. I've seen nothing but rave reviews - until this week when I saw two negative mentions, both referring to the depravity. Is it like that? Why all the wonderful reviews?)

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    1. A Book Riot contributor Kit wrote a great piece about the differences between Gone Girl and The Dinner. It's here: http://bookriot.com/2013/03/11/is-the-dinner-really-the-new-gone-girl/

      Review of Gone Girl is here: http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.com/2012/07/gone-girl-manipulative-mysteryin-great.html

      I loved Gone Girl, and I think people who don't tend not to just be contrarian. The characters are depraved, but not in a way that purposefully tries to turn the reader off, as is the case here.

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  4. at last...someone else who didn't get the hype...quite the boring book!
    dianam167@sbcglobal.net

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  5. I think you just spared me from a 300 page troll! I was on the fence with this one because I was afraid I might miss something great, but if it rose to the level of a hate read I think I can skip it. Sometimes the books that get all the buzz are really popular with people who don't read a whole lot, but don't connect as well with avid readers (I'm going to pick on Twilight and 50 Shades as examples here). Gone Girl being the exception that has made us less wary of the buzz because that one did live up to the hype. So thanks!

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    1. Yeah - I wish I had five minutes alone with the marketer who decided The Dinner is "the next Gone Girl." I just don't get why they're so much marketing muscle behind this - it's just such a dreadful book.

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  6. Whew! One more I can take off my very long "to be read" list! Thanks for the great review. I love blogs about books. You can be so honest.

    I've got to say though, I thought the folks in Gone Girl were pretty despicable too. But you're right in noting how inventive the book was.

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  7. I didn't like Gone Girl because I disliked the two main characters so much; clearly The Dinner is not for me! Thanks for your honest review.

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  8. Thanks for the warning. Will steer clear of it

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  9. I've been a little suspicious about the comparisons with Gone Girl, as this book sounds a bit boring and literary. I put it on my to-read list but have lost interest the more reviews I've read of it. If you want something that *does* appeal in a way similar to Gone Girl, try The Burning Air by Erin Kelly.

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  10. Thanks for the honest review - I have actually toyed with the idea of picking this one up. But with so many books that I really want to read, there's no time to waste on something I could hate this much.

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  11. I liked the book, found it impossible to put down. I'm not here to debate you but out of curiosity, why did Paul seem reticent to say Claire was his wife in the beginning of the novel? And then at the very end, Claire makes an auspicious comment about siblings (page 288)... Does anyone think Paul and Claire are siblings?

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