I always appreciate a book that takes me out of my comfort zone but still manages to draw me into to the story. Usually for a book to do that, it has to be well written with intriguing characters and a compelling plot (just like all books really). But it also has to contain subject matter that challenges me in some way; a topic that I’m not familiar with, subject matter that is borderline taboo, a writing style that is outside the norm (2nd person narrative for example), or based on real events. So, when I read 50 Shades of Grey- unfamiliar and taboo subject matter, yes. Well written and compelling, not so much! But A Game of Thrones,(the dark, fantasy, murder and malice) not my usual cup of tea, and still I enjoyed it enough to read the 2 that came after it. That said, there is something about a book with a controversial plot that could potentially be real that makes it slightly more uncomfortable, as it starts you questioning the darker side of human nature…
Book #21 The Dinner, Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett, narrated by Clive Mantle
Synopsis: This will surely be a dreadful evening- a restaurant where it’s impossible to get a reservation unless they know you, pretentious food in tiny portions presented by the server (as if you can’t figure out what’s on your plate), and worst of all, Serge. Serge, the up-and-coming politician who requested this dinner so they could all discuss their children. Paul is dreading every minute. Mostly because he can’t stand the way his brother must make a show of everything, but also because he wants to avoid this conversation. Paul, his wife Clare and their son, Michel, have a happy little life; why can’t they keep it that way? Serge, his wife Babette and their 3 children are in the public eye as Serge prepares to run for Prime Minister of Holland. Their oldest son, Rick, is the same age as Michel, and they are the children that must be discussed. After sitting through several insufferable courses, they get down to business. Only it’s really a matter of who-knows-what and how much of their hand they are willing to show. Everyone seems to think they know best, or have the kids best interests in mind. What will these parents do to protect their children and who is willing to go a little too far?
My Impressions: It’s hard to root for the bad guy, but it can be easy to sympathize with him after he’s told you all of the “bad” things that the good guy has done. It’s a bit more than sibling rivalry that keeps Paul and Serge from being friendly, but because of the point of view narration, it’s really hard to pick a side. In fact, it is this point of view narration that has you questioning right and wrong throughout the book. Obviously there are some very real, very extreme wrongs, but the line is a little fuzzy for some situations. This is a very hot debate through most of the book, and by the end you’re still not really sure if you’re on the side of right in the end. This book explores some interesting moral themes that may cause you to question your own position on some sociopolitical issues.
The book was well written and the mix of present events and flashbacks added intrigue to the story and helped propel the plot to its conclusion. The characters are really quite fascinating as their natures are revealed. And the overall subject matter is truly different than anything I’ve ever encountered in books or film. Actually you could make a case for a very interesting and rather dark movie to made based on this book.
Why you should read it: I did find this book easy to listen to. I’m a bit of a sucker for a British narrator. But it was really the unusual approach to the story and the taboo subject matter that kept my interest. I would definitely recommend this for book club lists and potentially for a literature study.
Read if you liked: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
Book #21 in the bag
“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” ― Abraham Lincoln