Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Narrator: Clive Mantle
Length: 8 hours 58 minutes
When a fellow bibliophile told me that this year’s Gone Girl was The Dinner, it would be a suspenseful read that would keep me up late into the night and leave me nursing a book hangover come morning.
The bulk of the story takes place in an upscale restaurant where two couples meet to discuss the respective fate of their teenage sons. The listener is continuously kept guessing as to what crime the two boys could have committed: is it a case of bullying? Breaking curfew? Graffiti? Shoplifting? The innocuous tone of the narrator is a stark contrast to the revelations that occur throughout the meal. From marital distress to political intrigue, each family is clearly hiding more than they seem to be. The narrator, Clive Mantle, lends a sense of dignity to the story as his rich English accent invites the listener to seat themselves as a silent spectator to the dinner’s proceedings.
Despite my expectations, though, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the comparison between the two books. Koch’s story does share an inherent darkness and is a compelling read; however, the atmospheres of the books are very different. Swinging wildly from detached boredom to extreme violence certainly amplified the shock value of The Dinner but it didn’t build suspense for the listener. Both books do share one intriguing and somewhat uncommon trait, however: they both use an “unreliable narrator”. In Flynn’s Gone Girl, we are introduced to Nick Dunne, who, through his own admission, has been lying to the police—and us. In The Dinner, we see the story through the eyes of Paul Lohman, a man who seems trustworthy at first but, as the story continues, slowly reveals to us another side.
If you enjoyed Gone Girl and are looking for a more suspenseful read, then I would suggest you check out Sarah Watson’s gripping Before I Go To Sleep, which you will, in all likelihood, literally need to finish reading before you sleep. As for The Dinner, enjoy this slower-paced but still captivating read and choose your dining companions carefully.