By Herman Koch
(Not one of the Koch brothers)
Premise: Two couples have dinner and discuss their children. The entire book takes place at this meal. It is a story about parental sacrifice.
That… didn’t sound very interesting to me. However, the idea of the whole thing happeneing over the course of a many course meal… that was a bit intriguing from the narrative structure point of view.
Boy, am I glad I read this book.
First off, yes. The present day action all takes place around one meal. However, the author uses flashbacks ( a lot of flashbacks) to give context to the discussion and the action at the table. Thankfully we move back and forth easily; it is always obvious where in time we are.
Secondly, yes… sort of. This is a story about parental sacrifice. But it is so much more. It is about parental responsibilities and about human responsibilities. It is about legacy. It is about violence and repercussions. It is about turning a blind eye… or blinding oneself to avoid seeing.
There aren’t a lot of characters, but those that ae introduced, even the side character of the waiter, are given unforgettable details and quirks. The dialogue is fine, as far as it goes, but what really shines in this book is the story; the complicated, layered, and downright creepy story.
As the adults discuss, and pointidly don’t discuss, what it is their children have done (and not done), the onion is peeled letting us in deeper and deeper to what many would consider a parental nightmare.
Layers. That’s really what this book is about and what holds it all together so well. Layers. Layers of guilt, of action, of inaction… layers of the past, and in a shocking twist, layers of decisions and choices that affect the future.
I really don’t want to spoil any of the surprises for you… I highly recommend this book. Note: do not power read. This story, like a fine meal, is better savored and digested slowly. Trust me, barrel through and you will miss some of the wonderful subtlety and nuances that make this book a rare and delightful feast.
Any more food puns? Nah, I think I’ll stop.