It’s All Maya!

If Life is an illusion, then why do I keep banging my head against the wall?

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The Dinner by Herman Koch Or Hell’s Kitchen – Bon Appétit!

January 19th, 2014 · 6 Comments

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First of all, let me say I enjoyed the novel.  The writing was good and the plot somewhat intriguing.  A 309 page story that takes place in a restaurant over dinner.  And not just any restaurant, but a fashionable one to boot.  Of course, I had to buy it if only to see what was on the menu and the service.  Okay, and because the story takes place in Amsterdam and I happened to live there for a year.

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The book starts with the apéritif, then the appetizer, the main course, dessert, and last of all, the digestif.  All that was missing was the cheese course–not!  The author managed to have the protagonist order cheese instead of dessert.

The storyline is, two brothers and their wives go to an upscale restaurant to talk about their sons.  The two teenage boys were caught on camera in an act of violence that resulted in a death.  The story is told by Paul.  His brother, Serge, is considered a shoo-in for becoming the next prime minister of Holland.  The last thing the politician needs is for his son and nephew to be implicated in a homicide.

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The video that was shown nationwide on the news shows the two boys committing the act, but they’re not readily identifiable except to the parents.

As each course is served, we get the back story about Paul and his son Michel, as well as, Serge’s son, Rick and his adopted son, Beau.  Paul’s wife, Marie-Claire, who calls herself Claire and Serge’s wife, Babette round out the cast.  (I find it interesting that out of the seven named characters, five of the names are French instead of Dutch.)  Still, the parody about a four star (French) restaurant was amusing although the author never names the restaurant.  As a matter of fact, several times the authors prefers not mentioning important details that would have made the story more interesting.  Instead, he tells the reader, they’re details that are private and not necessary to reveal.  (Go figure!)

Psychologically there’s a lot to be said here.  How far would someone go to protect their loved ones even though they know they’re guilty?  What are the consequences of that protection, how will that person turn out in life when he suffers no consequences for his actions?  The problem is the author spends more time with Pauls ramblings and back story rather than the four parents getting into discussing the real issue which is the reason, afterall, for the dinner.  Instead, we learn about Paul’s mental disorder and inability to control his own violent behavior which comes off as an excuse for his son’s random acts of violence on helpless people.

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The main reason this novel didn’t work for me and it hindered the enjoyment of reading this book was the choice of setting.  Who in their right mind, especially someone who’s a famous politician as Serge is in the story, would go to a public place to discuss something so private?  No one!  The last place anyone would talk about such a secret as their sons being murderers, would be in a top restaurant with the maître d’ hovering and patrons sitting all around trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.

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Maya Muses:  Even though hardly anything was said during dinner about the event, I had a hard time getting past something that seemed to me so illogical, it just didn’t work. Don’t let that stop you from reading this novel.  After all, there are a lot of other books who’s settings defy logic, yet we enjoy them and are carried away without question.  I think the seriousness of the acts of violence, without consequences or remorse, is what kept me grounded and unable to completely enjoy the meal.

Photo Credits:  Google Images, Menu, and Maître d’

Tags: Books and Reviews

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Donna // Jan 20, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I’ve been wanting to buy this book for some time now and I’ve heard mixed reviews. Your post seems mixed as well, so do you recommend buying it?

  • 2 Lynn // Jan 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Donna, I had to think about that before answering. As I said, I like the way the author writes, however, I couldn’t buy into the story and yes, I know it’s fiction, but still. On a scale from 1 to 5, I would give it a 3. (Sorry, I know that’s still sitting on the fence, but I think you may have to judge this one for yourself.)

  • 3 Lynn // Jan 22, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Let me just add, there’s really no action going on, not even in the restaurant where the action is suppose to take place, except for the service and the food that was ordered. But, how much can be said there? Not much.

    Over 200 pages deals with Paul’s reflections on his past. If you’re looking for an action thriller, this book isn’t for you, but if you like psychological dramas then it might be. Bottom line, I bought it, I read it and I don’t regret either one.

  • 4 Pam // Jan 22, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I read this book just last month and I agree, I thought who in the heck goes to a restaurant to talk about something you would want to keep a secret? The other thing that bothered me was the lack of concern the parents had about what their children did. Instead their concern was only about themselves and their children. There was a lot of hype about this book that just didn’t add up for me.

  • 5 Lynn // Jan 23, 2014 at 7:13 am

    After I read your comment, I went to Amazon to read a few reviews. It seems that we’re not the only ones, Pam – a number of people had the same reaction about the setting in the story. I wonder if the agent, editor, or publisher had any concerns about that? (Not enough to change it, in any case.)

  • 6 Donna // Feb 5, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I bought the book today! I’ll let you know what I think when I’m finished.

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