Audiobook Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Posted October 22, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 14 Comments

Audiobook Review: The Dinner by Herman KochThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Narrator: Clive Mantle
Published by AudioGO on February 13, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Length: 8 hrs, 55 mins
Source: my shelves

Goodreads | Amazon

This book is very polarizing: it seems that people either love it or hate it with a passion. Based on the ratings and reviews on Goodreads, there’s not much in-between. One of the things pissing people off is The Dinner being hailed as the “European Gone Girl” by the Wall Street Journal. I’m not sure why the WSJ tried to compare the two books–the only similarities are the depravity of the characters and a kind of quiet psychological unease The Dinner causes in its readers. Other than that, the two books couldn’t be any different. Part of the polarization definitely comes from the subject matter itself, too.

I happen to be on the “love it” side of the divide. I truly enjoyed every minute of The Dinner, including the parts that made me dislike the characters enough to want to slap them silly.

Quick synopsis: The Dinner takes place in Amsterdam, where two couples meet for dinner at a pretentious restaurant in order to discuss something their sons have done (something pretty effing horrendous), and what they, as parents, are going to do about it. The men of the two couples, Paul and Serge, are brothers who don’t necessarily get along all that well. Serge is an up-and-coming politician who is hoping to win the seat of Prime Minister in the next election. Paul doesn’t think very highly of Serge for many reasons, but mostly because of Serge’s fake politician-persona and inflated sense of self-worth. Paul is one of the “ordinary” people, in his brother’s view, and pretty proud of it. The entire story is told from Paul’s point of view, and over the course of the evening he complains about the restaurant and his brother, while looking back to the past and what brought them all to this dinner date in the first place.

The restaurant scenes are hilarious–while picking apart everything he doesn’t like about the restaurant and its employees, Paul is sarcastic and snide and I think very witty. He’s annoyed by everything: the food, the employees, the other patrons, his brother, his brother’s wife. He is annoyed by all the same things I would be annoyed by, and the germaphobe and the a-hole in me kept giving him mental high-fives while thinking, ‘Paul and I go together.’ There is an entire bathroom scene in which Paul discusses what the force of a man’s pee streams suggests that made me guffaw. I love it.

Then the book goes from hilarious to HOLY CRAP, THIS IS A TERRIBLE SITUATION all in one figurative page turn. This is where I started thinking, ‘Paul and I do not go together. Unh-uh. No way.’ Then it goes back to hilarious…and then on to downright depravity again. This is another thing I love about The Dinner. Holy emotional rollercoaster. Paul is a completely unreliable narrator and that’s part of what makes The Dinner so good, in my opinion. Paul may think his brother is a jerk, but Paul is no frickin’ saint himself. In fact, all of the characters leave a lot to be desired and ended up making me quite angry. I have a love/hate relationship with all of them.

Translation: I’m not sure how to judge whether or not a translator has done a good job. If a translation is to be judged by smoothness and readability, Sam Garret’s translation is great. If I hadn’t known it ahead of time, I never would have guessed that The Dinner had been translated from the original Dutch.

Narration of audiobook: Clive Mantle is a fantastic narrator. He has a lovely voice and accent, and I love how he reads The Dinner. My favorite thing about his narration is how he makes Paul growl “Seeerge” every time he says his brother’s name. It really emphasizes how annoyed Paul is by his brother. The way Mantle does this made me giggle every time.

The Dinner is great. It’s full of depraved characters that made me laugh (both with them and at them), even while I wanted to shake them and scream, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!” At the same time, it made me really think about how far I would go to protect the people I love the most from the law. What kinds of secrets would I be willing to keep and how would I handle a situation like this? Would the severity of the crime matter? The Dinner is a great book for discussion and would be perfect for a book club.

Highly recommended.

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  • This book has been staring at me for half a year. I actually heard about it before it was translated, so I was really excited about it when it came out as The Dinner. I bought it right away, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. Great to see you recommend it!

    • Heather

      I’d love to hear your thoughts (good or bad) when you get around to reading it.

  • I adored this one, too, and now you’ve made me want to listen to the aduiobook!

  • TBM

    I popped over from Geoff’s blog to say hello. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy. And I love reading books that so many people love and hate. No middle ground! Now I’m curious as to what the boys did.

    • Heather

      Welcome! I was kind of blown away when the big reveal happens. I’m pretty sure I gasped out loud.

      • TBM

        Gasped out loud. I must get my hands on a copy!

  • I must read this! I’m glad the audiobook is good. I’ll have to get my hands on that.

  • I agree, the narration was excellent. I, however, will not be putting this book on the best of the year. I can say that it is memorable. I can clearly recall many of the characters and much of what happens so it is powerful, in that sense.

  • I loved to hate this book too.
    The characters were truly appalling – almost beyond redemption – they deserved each other (which is maybe where the Gone Girl comparison starts and ends)!
    I work in an Indie bookshop and regularly recommend this book to book groups who love a good, meaty, heated discussion!
    I believe there is talk of a movie…?

  • This sounds great! I think it’s usually a good sign if you both love and hate the characters, it shows that the author has done a good job in getting the reader emotionally involved.

    • Heather

      Yep. And the characters felt like real people–they weren’t all good or all bad as individuals. They were realistically a combination of both, like we all are.

  • Although our bookclub only gave The Dinner 3 out of 5 omelets,it was a good discussion book!

  • I was debating whether or not to put this on my TBR…it’s on there now! Thanks for the honest review. It’s always interesting to see how an author brings to life despicable characters and makes them human…

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