The Dinner (Anglais) Relié – 26 juin 2013
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Although main plot is happening that evening, through their talking and events during that dinner, reader will get chance to know the characters through lots of flashbacks and events from past. As plot unfolds you will find out that main purpose of dinner is not family gathering but big secret which concerns all four of them, situation which needs to be solved because from it all of their future depends.
Gathering begins with small talk but drama is unfolding minute by minute, with each dish brought on their table. What is excellent you really have feeling that you are sitting right next to four of them and you cannot help yourself listen, eavesdrop them.
What gets little more oil to the fire is fact that dinner is taking place in expensive and hard-to-get-in restaurant with several months need-to-wait lists, the type of restaurant where it's not actually usual to have discussions at all, especially about such sensitive topics.
In the end you will find out that nothing is like you think would be at first, you would start asking yourself what you would be doing put in situation like this and what is most important - family, ambition, future or image about ourselves...
It must be admitted that in the end you will realize there are no "good-guys", but it is like that in the real world, as well.
Dinner is a great read, something about you will think for sure alone and probably discuss over your own dinner.
Mostly set in an expensive restaurant in Holland, sections of the book and storytelling are broken up by courses of a meal; starting with appetizer and moving along with dinner, dessert and digestive for the ending. Four people meet for a dinner in an upscale, hard-to-get-a-reservation kinda place. In the beginning I found Paul and Claire Lohman likeable and was quite amused by Paul’s observations regarding his brother and sister-in-law. The brother is Serge Lohman; a political figure running to be the next Prime Minister of Holland. Serge’s wife, Babette, is a compliant and shallow wife and dinner partner.
Paul Lohman is the narrator and early on you understand how irritated he is by his brother. What Paul remembers is the brother he grew up with who wolfed his food, was dismissed from the dinner table for farting and belching – not the adult public image people see now. To the public, to those who didn’t grow up with Serge, he is a the charismatic polished candidate for prime minister. He’s the guy who poses for family photos with his two children and is adopted African son; the guy who gets right in at a restaurant with a 3 month reservation wait time and the man who wants to champion the rights of the working people of Holland.
Midway through the book as you glean a sharper picture of the personalities as told through flashbacks. At the center of the developing drama are three male teenaged children of both couples. Something criminal, a horribly despicable episode is captured on video on one son’s cell phone. The facts aren’t revealed at first and you dance between the dinner conversation and the flashbacks.
It’s unsettling. I found this book to be disturbing with an unresolved ending. There were some events that needed further explanation. That’s just my opinion.
Personally there was only one character I liked by the end. Don’t want to give spoilers so I won’t go into my thoughts on some of the events and lack of explanation or resolution.
Food was mentioned quite a bit. Here are some passages:
Clearly in the beginning Paul and Claire didn’t want to go to the restaurant and meet Serge:
“The alternative would be to head straight for home, with at the very most a little detour past the video shop for a DVD, which we could then watch on the TV in the bedroom, lying on our roomy double bed: a glass of wine, some crackers, a few types of cheese to go with and a perfect evening would be complete.
I would let Claire choose the film, even though it meant it was bound to be some costume drama. Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View or Murder on the Orient Express.”
(This was the early part of the book where I still liked the characters.)
“These are Greek olives from Peloponnese, lightly doused in first-pressing, extra virgin olive oil from Sardinia, and polished off with rosemary from…….”
“The crayfish are dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions and these chantrelles are from Vosges”
“The lamb’s-neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil and is served with arugula,’ said the manager, who had by now arrived at Claire’s plate and was pointing with his pinky at two minuscule pieces of meat. “The sun-dried tomatoes come from Bulgaria” Warm goat’s cheese with pine nuts and walnut shavings.
My inclination is to prepare a wine and cheese tray for this book. The reasoning is, I still liked the people at the beginning of the book when this was mentioned…but I think for today, I will just post the review.
Paul has had a severe nervous breakdown and for several years he has been on medication that has numbed him down. Recently he decided, to stop taking the medication and live with the obsessions and nightmares that run through his mind so that he can experience the good stuff of life. In particular his wife and son.
Paul his wife Claire his brother Serge and his wife Babette, going for a family meal in a rather pretentious restaurant. It is stressful for Paul and his mind runs out of control over many issues: the choice of restaurant, where to sit, what to choose so as not to appear to copy anyone else, the waiter’s mannerisms, each dish, his brother and Babette and the relationship between two people sitting adjacent.
About a third of the way through the book the terrible act develops in his mind. We can imagine ourselves saying ‘how you would feel if your child had done that’. Well Paul goes further and really does imagine it.
If the terrible act was real or if Paul really was angry and violent they would not have met in a very public place to discuss it. And his mind would not keep switching back to trivia.
Paul does not tell anyone that he has stopped taking the medication and yet his wife and son realise that the old Paul is coming back. Their acceptance and support is understated and particularly touching.
And remember that Herman Koch writes satirical comedy.