Welcome to my first-ever Throwback Thursday blog post! This post is inspired by Renee of It’s Book Talk. The purpose of this post is to recommend an old favorite book, one that I wouldn’t have an occasion to talk about otherwise. Read on for my first Throwback Thursday recommendation!
The Dinner by Herman Koch
I’ve been a lifelong mystery reader. First it was my dad reading me the Boxcar Children mysteries, and then when I discovered my mom’s box of Nancy Drew books in our attic, it was game over - I was hooked. But when I think back on what books inspired me to start Crime by the Book - aka the books that made me want to tell everyone how amazing they were - I think of two authors: Jo Nesbo and Herman Koch. I’ve talked at length about my love for Nesbo lately - so today is all about Herman Koch.
I will never forget the night I finished reading THE DINNER by Herman Koch. I was living in Houston, Texas, tucked in bed binge-reading (as usual). When I turned the last page, I was floored by the brilliance of what I’d just read. Such a simple, little book, with such razor-sharp, incisive content. I remember picking up my phone and frantically Googling whether or not Koch had any other books out in English - and he did! (SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL.) It must’ve been 8:30 PM or so, because I remember thinking that if I got in the car right that moment, I could be at Barnes & Noble before it closed (I lived 25 minutes from B&N, so that was… optimistic). But I did it. I grabbed my bag, got in the car, drove the legal speed limit - I promise!, and made it to B&N in time to buy myself a copy of Koch’s next book and dive in that same night.
It’s rare to find a book that inspires that level of enthusiasm - the “I’ve got to read this author’s next book right now or I’ll never be the same” kind of enthusiasm. But Koch’s THE DINNER did it for me. And SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL did it for me again. (And his next book, DEAR MR. M, did it for me yet again.. you get the picture.) Koch writes books that are a bridge between literary fiction and crime fiction, but their themes make them a natural fit for crime readers. Koch explores how ordinary people can do truly nasty, disturbing things - and how close we might all be to being pushed over that edge. His writing is snarky, laced with dark humor, and it’s also incredibly insightful. That’s what I love most about his books: how reading them makes you feel uncomfortable, because these characters who are doing such heinous things? They’re not that different from you.
THE DINNER has been called “a European GONE GIRL”—personally, I think that’s a fairly horrible comparison. This book is nothing like GONE GIRL—it’s so much better. It might have similar themes - exploring the secrets hidden within families - but it’s really not a psychological thriller in the sense we’ve come to expect. It’s set over the course of one dinner, divided up by meal course—and with each passing course, the readers are seated at the table with a family who must decide how to react in the face of a horrible truth about one of their own. THE DINNER is whip-smart, sometimes despicable, and totally brilliant.
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
Book Details: THE DINNER by Herman Koch
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Hogarth; Reprint edition (October 29, 2013)
Find THE DINNER on Amazon.