Review for The Dinner by Herman Koch

I received this book to read and review through a postal book club on Goodreads.

This book left me a bit confused as to the author’s intentions.  During the first 50 pages I was frustrated and irritated with the shallowness and vapid attitudes of the characters.  Then during the course of the next 100 pages, they became even more unlikable.  But it was at this point I started to wonder ~ is that the author’s intention?  Are my thoughts and feelings about these characters following along the exact path that the author wanted the readers to take?

At the beginning you realize you have two couples who are obviously well off, but whose depth of moral character obviously ends at the shallow end of the pool.  Then you start to realize that there is something not quite right with the protagonist and eventually seeing that his issues and those of his family are much larger than you could have ever imagined.  But exactly what those issues are…the author never really allows you to know.  We see the effects of it, but it is left in the shadows ~ some kind of condition/diagnosis/abnormality ~ but we never know what that is exactly.  I found this frustrating as it is obviously central to the character’s past, present, and future but as a reader we were left with only half answers about what exactly was going on with this character’s psyche.

So back to my original question ~ was it the author’s intention to create a story full of characters that were almost completely unlikable?  (One or more of which who may even be sociopaths?  Since he left the diagnosing entirely up to the reader…)  For a while, I really thought this was it  ~ the author wanted to take us down this road of dislike for these characters on purpose.  But upon finishing the book, I’m not as sure anymore.

The edition I had to read contained an, “Extra Libris,” section in the back, part of which was an interview with Herman Koch by  Debra Ginsberg.  From this interview I got the feeling that he didn’t intend for these people to be as disliked as…well, as much as I disliked them.  I just couldn’t find much at all as far redeeming qualities in them.  But at the same time ~ I can’t say that the story itself was bad.  I remained consistently at odds with the characters and their self-centered view of the world, but eventually the story did take over.  The ending doesn’t wrap up everything nice and neat so there wasn’t that kind of satisfaction at the end.  Essentially I was left with the question ~ does dislike of the characters (ALL of the characters) necessarily mean dislike of the book itself?  In the end, I don’t think it does.  But it certainly doesn’t help either.  So while I would never tell someone to *not* read this book, it certainly has not been one of my favorites.  So I give it two stars.


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