"A European Gone Girl." —The Wall Street Journal
An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal.
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2013
An ALA Notable Book of the Year
New York Times Bestseller * USA Today Bestseller * Los Angeles Times Bestseller
“A European Gone Girl…The Dinner, a sly psychological thriller that hinges on a horrific crime and its consequences for two families, has become one of spring’s most anticipated suspense novels.” —The Wall Street Journal
“[Koch] has created a clever, dark confection… absorbing and highly readable.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Tongue-in-cheek page-turner.” —The Washington Post
“The best part about The Dinner was this tension taking place above the plates. As the meal wore on, I realized I couldn't get up from the table.” —Rosecrans Baldwin, NPR
“Poised to shake up American publishing…Koch tells a story that could very well take away your appetite.” —USA Today.com
“[A] deliciously Mr. Ripley-esque drama.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“You’ll eat it up, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Koch’s ability to toy with the reader’s alliances while using one family’s distress to consider greater societal ills gives the novel a vital punch.” —Daily Beast
“Every detail…manage[s] to catch our attention when Herman Koch uses them to develop his curious characters and bring us into the dark and thought-provoking plot.” —Seattle Post Intelligencer
“A tart main course that explores how quickly the facade of civility can crumble. It's hard to digest at times, but with a thought-provoking taste that lingers.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The novel has been called the Gone Girl of the Continent, and not without cause: Like Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, it’s a tale told by an unreliable narrator, full of twists and skillfully executed revelations, ultimately registering as a black parable about the deceptively civilized surface of cosmopolitan, middle-class lives…What Koch achieves with his prose—plain but undergirded by breathtaking angles, like a beautiful face scrubbed free of makeup — is a brilliantly engineered and (for the thoughtful reader) chastening mindfuck. The novel is designed to make you think twice, then thrice, not only about what goes on within its pages, but also the next time indignation rises up, pure and fiery, in your own heart.” —Salon.com
“Briskly paced and full of ingenious twists—a compulsive read…for those who can tolerate the unsavory company, The Dinner is a treat they’ll gulp down in one sitting.”
—Dallas Morning News
“The Dinner begins with drinks and dark satire, and goes stealthily and hauntingly from there. It's chilling, nasty, smart, shocking and unputdownable. Read the novel in one big gulp, and then make plans with friends—you’ll be desperate to debate this book over cocktails, appetizers, entrees, dessert…and then you still won't be done talking about it.” —Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
“Funny, provocative and exceedingly dark, this is a brilliantly addictive novel that wraps its hands around your throat on page one and doesn’t let go.” —SJ Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep
“Herman Koch has written a sneakily disturbing novel. He lures us into his story with his unfailingly reasonable tone (just acidic enough to be entertaining), and before we know it we've found ourselves in places we never would've consented to go. The Dinner is a smart, amiably misanthropic book, and it's tremendous fun to read.” —Scott Smith, author of The Ruins
“The Dinner is a riveting, compelling and a deliciously uncomfortable read. Like all great satire it is both lacerating and so very funny... Intelligent and complex, this novel is both a punch to the guts and also a tonic. It clears the air. A wonderful book.”
—Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap
“What a tremendous book. I loved every single gripping and strange thing about it.”
—MJ Hyland, author of Carry Me Down
“By the end of The Dinner you'll have to rethink everything, including who you are and what you believe. This is a book you won't forget.” —David Vann, author of Dirt
“Mesmerizing and disturbing… fast-paced and addictive…The Dinner, already a bestseller in Europe, is sure to find an enthusiastic American readership as well.”
“This chilling novel starts out as a witty look at contemporary manners…before turning into a take-no-prisoners psychological thriller…With dark humor, Koch dramatizes the lengths to which people will go to preserve a comfortable way of life…this is a cunningly crafted thriller that will never allow you to look at a serviette in the same way again.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A high-class meal provides an unlikely window into privilege, violence and madness…Koch’s slow revelation of the central crisis is expertly paced, and he’s opened up a serious question of what parents owe their children, and how much of their character is passed on to them…a chilling vision of the ugliness of keeping up appearances.”
International Praise for The Dinner
“The perfect undemanding, credible, terrifying beach read.” —Financial Times
‘‘[The Dinner] proves how powerful fiction can be in illuminating the modern world...The reader does not rise from his table happy and replete so much as stand up suddenly, pale and reeling. Bored with Fifty Shades of Grey and all that brouhaha? Read The Dinner—and taste the shock.” —The Economist
“I’m confidently predicting that The Dinner will become this summer’s literary talk of the town—and the Twittersphere—here in the UK, as it already is in Continental Europe, where the novel has sold more than a million copies. Order yours now.”
“Shivers kept shooting up my backbone as I became engrossed in Koch’s darkly disturbing tale of family life. . .As the dinner disintegrates into mayhem, we discover just how far the middle classes will go to protect their monstrous offspring.” —Daily Mail
“Rather like The Slap it is set to become a contentious must-read. It may thrill, chill or cheat, but it is undeniably riveting.” —The Independent
“This tense and thought-provoking family drama is set to become a major literary talking point as it asks the question: Just how far would you go to protect your family?” —The Bookseller
“Hugely accomplished and surprisingly subtle.” —Readers Digest (UK)
SELECTION 2014 American Library Association Notable Books
About the Book
An acclaimed international bestseller, The Dinner is the provocative, darkly suspenseful tale of a seemingly ordinary meal at a posh Amsterdam restaurant, where two couples must confront a dangerous secret. In a story line that will have all parents wondering how well they really know their children—and how far parents should go to protect their family—master of suspense Herman Koch introduces us to brothers Paul and Serge Lohman and the frightful truths they share.
Each with a fifteen-year-old son, the Lohmans haven’t always approved of each other’s parenting styles. Now their boys have triggered a police investigation that threatens everything their families cherish. As Paul narrates the night in gripping, finely honed scenes, we are served a glimpse of the dark side of genteel society and the startling ease with which ordinary people can do extraordinarily horrific things.
This guide is designed to enrich your discussion of The Dinner. We hope that the following questions will make your reading group’s experience delectable.
Guide written by Amy Clements
1. How did your opinion of Paul and Serge shift throughout the novel? How might the story line have unfolded if it had been told from a mother’s point of view?
2. In what way do the courses of a meal—from aperitif to digestif—echo the experience of savoring a suspenseful novel? As the waiter described each delicacy in The Dinner, did the food appeal to you, or did you share Paul’s belief that it was pretentious?
3. What do you think of the sympathy Paul and Claire feel for their son? As a parent, how far would you go to defend your child?
4. Do Michel and Rick represent the indifference of their generation, or are teenagers more socially conscious in the Information Age?
5. How much influence do Claire and Babette have over their husbands? How do they define good mothering?
6. The novel opens with Paul’s commentary on how much Serge irritates him. What accounts for their attitude toward each other? Does Paul’s animosity run deeper than typical sibling rivalry?
7. Discuss Paul’s and Serge’s career paths. What does it take to succeed in politics compared with succeeding in the classroom? What skills do the Lohman brothers share?
8. Ultimately, who is to blame for the homeless woman’s death? What does the novel indicate about the responsibilities (or irresponsibility) of the upper class? What separates sympathetic souls from heartless ones?
9. Discuss the portrait of a marriage that Paul paints as he recalls Claire’s illness and confronts the possibility of losing his family. Why is Claire so protective of Paul? What keeps their relationship going?
10. In chapter 30, we see the details of Paul’s approach to history and humanity. As you watched him lose his teaching job, did you perceive him as someone who is ill or simply selfish? Or rational?
11. What does the story of cousins Michel and Rick say about nature versus nurture? How do you think Beau/Faso sees his adoptive family? What have they taught him about getting ahead?
12. How did you react to Claire and Michel’s “solution”?
13. What commentary does the novel offer about the author’s homeland? What aspects of The Dinner would change if it were set in Washington, DC, rather than in the Netherlands?