In Which I Agree That Morality Is Shaky Ground

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The Dinner

Herman Koch

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I’m not sure how to go about reviewing a book like “The Dinner”.

I read a few of the reviews on Goodreads right after finishing it, just to see if other people had the same reaction. Most of them didn’t.

A lot of reviews went on and on about how disgusting and un-relatable the characters were. Some focused on the lack of pay-off or moral closure.

For me, though, “The Dinner” has to be one of the greatest and most disturbing things I’ve read in a long time.

It starts off quite deceptively simple. We meet Paul Lohman and his wife Claire — they’re having dinner with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babbette at a posh restaurant.

At once Paul’s narration leads us to hate Serge and Babbette. They are shallow, pretentious people. This is a boring, irritating dinner because, well, who likes having dinner with social climbers?

But not everything is as simple as it seems.

It’s not a social call. There’s a reason for this dinner. The couples have to make a difficult decision concerning their children and a horrific crime (or crimes, really).

I guess what makes this novel so disgusting for most readers is the fact that it isn’t the usual moralistic drivel. There is no hero in this novel. There is no good guy.

There is a slightly good guy, but he’s not who you expect him to be.

Instead what we see is a very ugly but realistic unraveling. We see exactly how people can throw morality out the window when the ones they love are on the line.

Do we sympathize with the Lohmans?

Not really.

Do we understand them?

Hell yes.

I’d like to say I won’t do what they did. I’d like to say I’m a much better person than any of the characters in the novel. But until it actually happens to me, I’m not going to pass judgment.

And neither should you.

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