The Dinner, by Dutch author Herman Koch, is a nasty book about nasty people doing nasty things written for nasty readers. I loved it.
The premise is simple: two couples go to dinner at a fancy restaurant. After the small-talk is done, the conversation turns more serious – towards their sons, and the terrible thing that they did, and how far the couples are willing to go to protect their children.
The Dinner was originally published in 2009, and translated into English in 2013. At a first glance, the premise sounds very similar to Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011), which itself was based on Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage (2006). In many ways it is; the trope of two people or two couples sitting down and talking is popular though seldom done well. The Dinner takes this and serves it up perfectly, though thankfully not nearly as pretentiously as the way the expensive meals are served up in the restaurant.
Acerbic and witty, uncomfortable and extraordinarily politically incorrect, this is the kind of book that will deeply unsettle any reader but at the same time make it impossible for them not to laugh. The plot is structured through the eyes and thoughts of the main character, both jumping back and forth between the dinner and his own meandering memories and yet somehow remaining smooth and easy to follow the entire way. The characters are all very unpleasant people and yet you find yourself invested in them, fascinated in a horrified kind of way.
If you’re looking for a book with a fresh style and outlook, then The Dinner comes highly recommended.