The Dinner by Herman Koch


“The Dinner” by Herman Koch is a psychological thriller that explores the dark and disturbing depths of human behavior, ethics, and family dynamics. The novel centers around a seemingly ordinary dinner at an upscale restaurant in Amsterdam, where two couples meet to discuss a grave matter concerning their children.

The story is narrated by Paul Lohman, a former history teacher. As the evening unfolds, it becomes clear that their children have committed a horrific crime, and the couples must decide how to handle the situation. The tension mounts as layers of deception, secrets, and moral dilemmas are revealed. The novel takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions as it delves into the consequences of privilege, loyalty, and the lengths to which individuals will go to protect their loved ones. Through its unreliable narrator and intricate plot, “The Dinner” challenges readers to question their own values and beliefs, making it a thought-provoking and disturbing exploration of human nature.

10 Key Takeaways from The Dinner by Herman Koch:

  • Moral Dilemmas: “The Dinner” delves into profound moral dilemmas. The central question revolves around whether the characters should protect their children from the consequences of a heinous crime. This theme highlights the complexities of ethics and challenges readers to consider what they would do in similar circumstances.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The novel employs an unreliable narrator in Paul, who recounts the events of the dinner. His perspective is colored by his own biases and obsessions, making it difficult for readers to discern the objective truth. This narrative technique underscores the subjectivity of perception and the way personal biases can influence storytelling.
  • Class Divide: The story emphasizes the class divide between the characters and society. The restaurant setting and the characters’ privileged status enable them to manipulate the situation and escape the consequences of their actions. This portrayal sheds light on the unequal treatment of the wealthy and their ability to maintain their status.
  • Parental Love: “The Dinner” explores the profound and often irrational nature of parental love. The characters are willing to go to extreme lengths to shield their children from the repercussions of their actions. This theme highlights the powerful force of parental instincts and the sacrifices parents may make to protect their offspring.
  • Social Critique: The novel serves as a sharp social critique. It exposes how societal norms and values can be distorted to protect the elite and maintain their privileged positions. This critique extends to the media’s role in shaping public perception and the lengths to which individuals will go to protect their reputations.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The complex relationship between Paul and his brother, Serge, is a recurring theme. Their rivalry and jealousy add depth to their interactions and contribute to the tension within the story. Their unresolved issues further complicate the family dynamic.
  • Character Development: As the dinner unfolds and tensions rise, the characters undergo significant development. Readers witness the gradual unveiling of hidden facets of their personalities and the motivations that drive their actions. This character evolution contributes to the book’s depth and complexity.
  • Suspenseful Plot: The novel’s plot is structured to create suspense. Herman Koch skillfully reveals shocking revelations at strategic points in the narrative, keeping readers on the edge of their seats and eager to uncover the truth. The pacing of these revelations adds to the overall tension and drama.
  • Reflection of Human Nature: “The Dinner” is a reflection on the darker aspects of human nature. It demonstrates how individuals can justify immoral actions when they believe they are acting out of love or necessity. The characters’ choices and rationalizations force readers to confront uncomfortable truths about human behavior.
  • Challenging Societal Norms: The book challenges societal norms and asks readers to question their own values and ethics. It raises uncomfortable questions about the lengths people are willing to go to protect themselves and their loved ones, even if it means sacrificing their principles.


“The Dinner” by Herman Koch is a gripping and morally challenging novel that explores the depths to which individuals are willing to go to protect their loved ones and themselves. Set against the backdrop of an extravagant dinner, it delves into themes of class, privilege, and the consequences of a heinous crime. With an unreliable narrator and shocking revelations, the story keeps readers engaged and questioning their own values. Ultimately, it serves as a powerful commentary on the complexities of human nature and the lengths people will go to when faced with difficult choices.



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