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Literature / The Dinner

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The Dinner is a 2009 novel by Dutch author Herman Koch. The narrator, Paul, dines with his wife, Claire, as well as his ambitious brother and brother's wife, Serge and Babette. The novel takes place, unsurprisingly, over the course of a high-end dinner, with flashbacks explaining why the dinner's taking place. Things don't go very well.

The novel was well-received and a Dutch film of the book was released in 2013, followed by an Italian adaptation and an American adaptation.

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This book provides examples of:

  • Blackmail Backfire: Beau's attempts to blackmail his adoptive brother Rick and cousin Michel with footage of their murder of the homeless woman not only fail, but also cost him his life - Rick and Michel ultimately murder him.
  • Fancy Dinner: Although the restaurant purposely isn't named, its high cost and atmosphere are described in almost endless detail.
  • Happily Adopted: Beau is Serge and Babette's adopted son from Burkina Faso, who was raised like one of their own. By the end of the novel, considering Beau's attempts to blackmail his adoptive brother and cousin, Paul questions whether Beau was ever truly happy being part of the family.
  • Happily Married: Although they've had some issues, on the whole, Paul and Claire are very much in love and happy together. Serge and Babette, meanwhile, are probably not.
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  • How We Got Here: The novel begins with both Lohman couples meeting for a Fancy Dinner to discuss an important matter. Through flashbacks, we gradually piece together the events that led up to the dinner.
  • In the Blood: More than halfway through the novel, we discover that Paul suffers from a neurological disorder that makes him prone to violent behaviour. Michel's murderous actions make Paul (and the reader) wonder if he indeed has inherited that disorder - though its also implied that Michel could simply have been psychologically influenced by Paul.
  • Karma Houdini: The ending suggests that Michel and Rick completely get away with their manslaughter of the homeless woman (and their murder of their cousin/adoptive brother Beau). Claire also gets away with her public assault of Serge, simply because Serge did not consider it a good idea to file charges against his own sister-in-law.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The tension between Paul and Serge largely comes down to this. Though, as we later learn, Paul's sociopathic tendencies, particularly the one time he physically assaulted Serge, also no doubt played a part in their antipathy towards each other.
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    • Its possible that Beau's decision to blackmail his adoptive brother Rick (and his cousin Michel) also stems from this.
  • Teens Are Monsters: It turns out that while Michel may have murdered the homeless woman by accident, he kills his cousin on purpose. It's strongly hinted that his other cousin, the murdered boy's brother, helped.
  • The Sociopath: It's very possible that Paul, as well as Michel (and maybe Claire), are sociopaths.
  • Vigilante Man: It is very subtly implied that Michel might consider himself to be one. During one of Paul's flashbacks, we learn that Michel had once written a school essay justifying the extra-judicial killing of heinous criminals. His attack on the homeless woman in the ATM could have been motivated in part by a desire to punish her for her squatting. Indeed, during the dinner, Paul and Claire try to mitigate the boys' actions by suggesting that the homeless woman wasn't an 'innocent'.
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