In The Dinner two Dutch couples meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant with important matters to discuss. The evening is told through the prospective of Paul Lohman, who dreads spending the evening with his wife Clara, his sister-in-law Babette, and his brother Serge, a rising star politician who may be elected Prime Minister in the upcoming elections. Paul’s narration is digressive and meandering, though the novel itself follows a linear projection from aperitif through desert. Along the way, the reader gains more insight into the nature of Paul’s mind and the horrible occurrence that has lead to this meeting.
Marketed as a thriller a la Gone Girl, The Dinner is really more of an extended writing exercise as Koch invents reason upon reason to drag his thin plot to a fit the length of a novel. Indeed the very premise of the story beggars belief. The idea that a public figure would choose to have a conversation like this in a public place is nonsensical.
I fear that to say more would spoil the book. Suffice it to say that the discussion to be had involves a terrible decision made by the children of both couples. Oddly, though deciding on a course of action seems to be the whole point of the evening, it is not until long into the meal when it is brought up.
While the revelations near the end are suitably disturbing, they lack weight because of how unbalanced the narrative is. Serge and Babette are stick figure characters, and important aspects of Paul’s and Clara’s characters are withheld merely to build to a “shocking” ending.
The Dinner is a short work that still feels too long. It’s pretty much exactly like being stuck at a restaurant with other people when you’d rather be dining alone.