The Dinner by Herman Koch 2014 Tournament of Books Watch

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The 2014 Tournament of Books is here, and The Voyage Out will be spending a lot of time over the next month or so talking about this wonderfully book nerdy thing. I hope you enjoy our coverage.

The first thing I liked about The Dinner was the name on the spine. Hogarth Press is a new player in the world of literary fiction, and they’ve come out swinging.  With breakout, high-minded novels like The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu, and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (can’t believe Constellation didn’t make the ToB shortlist) the Press has already made a splash. With The Dinner they proved that people in this country will read super subtle, dark fiction in translation, and I hope that other publishers have taken notice.

That love aside, let’s get to the book. The Dinner is a family tragedy of epic proportions as told over a single meal. Paul sits with his wife, his brother and his brother’s wife at a hilariously pretentious fine dining establishment. Over the next three hours or so, Paul treats us to flashbacks and social commentaries about his horrendously inappropriate and criminal family. The book is simultaneously huge and small. Huge in that it shows something about class and privilege, and small in that it shows the subtle ways all families are dysfunctional. The book lives inside the simple tweaks of language between husbands and wives, and explodes in the tiny lies that parents tell to their children. The book is funny and disjointed and slow in the most exciting ways. It is exactly like many of us: multiple and conflicted and ultimately broken.

You won’t turn the last page of The Dinner and sigh and go tell your friends about how great the book is. You’ll turn the last page, and question if that was good, or was it a huge waste of time. Over the next few days the book will worm its way into your thoughts, and it won’t leave. It’ll dig into you in a sometimes-uncomfortable way. I could tell you just how long it will take to get it out of your head, but I don’t know yet.

Because of the long-term work this book does to you, I’m not sure how well it will do in this tournament. I predict some judge will knock it out early, but will later regret doing so.

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