Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book 106: The Dinner

While this was a well-written novel, I don't think I would ever actually recommend it to anyone.  The characters were absolutely despicable and didn't have any redeeming qualities.  While I know that is a complaint leveled against Gone Girl as well, I actually enjoyed Gone Girl and figuring out its twists - in other words, it had something other than the characters going for it.  This book on the other hand didn't have anything in it other than the characters whose actions just made me feel slightly grimy for reading about them.  For me, it's a novel that I would love to discuss but I don't actually want to put anyone through reading it to make that discussion possible.
The majority of the novel takes place over a dinner at a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam.  Paul, the narrator, and his brother, Serge, do not have very much in common and don't seem to always get along, but their sons are friends, and as a result, they are at this dinner to discuss a criminal act that the boys did together.  Paul is less than excited about this dinner, and it is easy to relate to his rants about the pretentiousness of the restaurant and of the rich, since his brother has a good chance of being elected prime minister.  As the novel progresses, however, perspectives change with the addition of information.
Many reviews and product descriptions have stated that the novel explores how far one will go to protect one's family and loved ones, but I think that is a very simple way of viewing the novel.  Protecting one's family is an idea I can understand, and I could certainly understand a parent wanting to protect his child from criminal prosecution even if that kid was unquestionably guilty.  That doesn't mean the parent should protect the child, but I understand the sentiment.  This novel goes further than that - it takes a look at privilege and the ability to completely ignore the experiences and suffering of others.  That's the thing that I disliked so much about the majority of the people in this novel - it wasn't simply that they wanted to protect their children to avoid both the political scandal and prevent them from having a record; it was the fact that at no point do the parents discuss punishment.  For example, if your kid had a DUI, and you chose not to turn him into the police, wouldn't you still punish him by grounding him to his room for the rest of the time he lived with you?  I could understand parents protecting children but this novel's characters actually found ways to avoid accountability.  One parent is more interested in being friends with the child than a proper parent, and it is clear that that son feels extreme contempt for his parent.
As I said above, it is an interesting novel, well-written, and certainly one I wanted to discuss upon completion.  However, it is not an easy read because of the feelings it might provoke, and the people are absolutely horrible.  As a result, it's not one I would recommend to just anyone, but if this sounds like something that might be of interest, give it a shot.

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