I quite like unlikeable characters but I may have met my match with these despicable people. In The Dinner by Herman Koch, we have a narrator, somewhat sympathetic, who slowly emerges as unreliable and less and less likeable, as do the people around him. The more you learn, the more bitter the taste in your mouth.
Pictured here with our cunttail Despicable People and the original Dutch edition which our Dutch-born member read. Also, roggenbrood met edam and a casserole dish of bitterballen with mustard.
Two brothers and their wives meet in a flashy expensive restaurant where the food is scarce.
“The first thing that struck you about Claire’s plate was the vast emptiness. Of course, I’m well aware that, in the better restaurants, quality takes precedence over quantity, but you have voids and then you have voids. The void here, that part of the plate on which no food at all was present, had clearly been raised to a matter of principle.”― Herman Koch, The Dinner
The narrator, Paul, is the less successful of the brothers and his dislike of his brother Serge, an aspiring politician is palatable. Serge is a wine connoisseur but Paul recalls;
“When we were still living at home, all he ever drank was cola, huge amounts of it; he had no problem knocking back an entire king-size bottle at dinnertime. Then he would produce these gigantic belches, for which he was sometimes sent to his room, belches that lasted ten years or longer–like subterranean thunder rolling up and exploding from somewhere deep down in his stomach–and for which he enjoyed a certain schoolyard fame: among the boys, that is, for he knew even then that girls were only repulsed by burps and farts.”Herman Koch, The Dinner
With deftness, Koch gradually reveals that couples are not meeting for a meal, but to discuss their children, but this is more than a family drama. Koch deftly moves the reader from appetisers to a melting uneaten dessert and it is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
“Is it life-threatening?’ they asked. They said it slightly sotto voce, but you could hear the thirst for sensation right through it – when people get a chance to come close to death without having it touch them personally, they never miss the opportunity.”Herman Koch, The Dinner
Pocket Bookclub was left asking, was there anyone likable in this book? Did anyone have a conscious, a single ethical bone in their body? As the characters grapple with what is essentially an ethical dilemma their blindness to the moral implications is like eating that gross undercooked fat on a pork chop. Still, just like we are fascinated by any disaster, I suggest reading this book and introducing it to your bookclub.
“I only said that not all victims are automatically innocent victims.”Herman Koch, The Dinner
The Pocket Bookclub raged against a book of literary cocktails that only included quotes from men. We embarked on a cunttail project, inventing a cunttail for every book we read in 2022. We made a literary cunttail book! What’s wrong with the word cunt? Nothing
Literary Cunttails 2022 is hand-drawn by Miriama and includes every recipe. Get a free copy.