Narrator: Clive Mantle
Published by AudioGO on February 13, 2013
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.