WARNING: SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!
If you read my review of The Dinner yesterday, you will know that this book is filled with very unlikable characters and is narrated by the worst of them all. But while the overall bad taste you get from reading such a dark story is hard to wash down, its themes stick with you. I think this is an excellent book because Herman Koch forces you to actively hate its characters. And that makes you think about his message about family, morality and social responsibility.
Here are some of the questions Koch raises:
- What would you do if your child committed a horrendous crime? Would you cover it up? How far would you go? Would you go as far as being an accomplice in another murder? And why? Is it more important to save your child’s future than do the right thing?
- What happens to a family when it ignores something terrible?
- What do you do if your spouse is violently unstable in certain situations, but loving towards you?
- When you know your baby carries a genetic defect that will cause him to develop the same violent tendencies as his father, how do you raise such a child?
- When are secrets acceptable and when do they make the situation worse?
Koch’s characters have to answer these questions, but we don’t like their answers. That’s how he involves the reader.
In addition to a commentary on choosing family over what is right, the author presents themes of politics, wealth, privilege, the working class and the homeless. Paul Lohman is disgusted by the restaurant manager, but the manager is just doing his job. The homeless woman’s life has as much value as anyone else’s, but Michel and Rick Lohman think she is repulsive.
I think one of the best parts about this book is Paul Lohman’s brother, Serge. Paul hates his politician brother, and describes him as insincere, simple-minded and selfish, but Serge is the sleeper in this story. He’s the only one with a conscience and wants to do the right thing. He’s not strong enough, though and in the end, he keeps the secret.
Here are my favorite quotes from The Dinner. They sum up the characters’ complete lack of moral conscience:
I think he understands now that some things simply have to stay within the family.” – Claire says this when Serge decides not to press charges after the attack in the café.
A happy family can survive a shipwreck.” – Paul
You don’t have to know everything about each other. Secrets didn’t get in the way of happiness.” – Paul
I think these quotes show how delusional the characters are, but taken out of context, they could be true. And that’s why I think this is a very clever look at human thought.
Have you read The Dinner? What did you like or dislike about it?
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