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The Dinner
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Book Discussions > Discussion Questions: The Dinner by Herman Koch

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Sammee (chasing_sammee) | 379 comments Mod
Discussion Questions: The Dinner by Herman Koch

***SPOILER WARNING*** These book club discussion questions reveal important details about The Dinner by Herman Koch Finish the book before reading on.

The Dinner is a chilling contemporary novel set over
the course of one sumptuous dinner at a fashionable
establishment.
Paul Lohman and his wife Claire meet Paul’s brother
Serge and his wife Babette for dinner. Paul, a retired
history teacher, is full of aggression, both towards
the restaurant with its pretentious food and service,
and towards his brother, Serge, the popular politician
whose ambition is to become Prime Minister of the
Netherlands in the forthcoming election.
As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that
tonight’s dinner will be even more difficult than usual.
Hanging over the diners is the shadow of an event
that has rocked the city: the cold-blooded killing of
a homeless woman by two teenage boys, caught on
camera. Boys Paul knows to be his son Michel and his
brother’s son Rick.
The two couples have met to discuss what their sons
have done. They need to decide how far will they go
to save their children from the consequences of their
actions.

Questions for discussion
1. In the beginning of the novel we meet Paul and
his wife Claire as they walk to the restaurant. Paul
talks about his idea of happiness and quotes from
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. What do you think he
means when he says that ‘unhappiness can’t stand
silence’?

2. We learn that Serge and Babette adopted a child,
Beau, from Burkina Faso. What do you think the
underlying motivation was?

3. Paul’s violent inclinations start to appear when
he describes the holiday with his brother in
France, where he imagines killing the Dutch
people, mentioning violent American films such as
Deliverance and Straw Dogs. Why do you think Paul
feels this way?

4. When Paul finds out about what his son has done
and confronts him in his bedroom, he remembers
a scene when Michel was eight years old. How did
this incident influence Paul’s reaction now?

5. How and to what extent do you think Michel is
influenced by his father’s rage?

6. Serge Lohman is willing to sacrifice his entire
political career in light of the crime that his son
has committed. What do you think his real motive
is? Why does his wife so vehemently oppose his
decision?

7. The author has set the novel over a meal in a
classy restaurant. What do you think he is trying to
illustrate by this choice?

8. The novel reveals moral ambiguities regarding
the nature of evil, loyalty, love and honesty. What
shapes these ambiguities?

9. Do you think people can be born with a propensity
for violence and evil, or are they more likely to be
shaped by early life, family and circumstances?

10. If you were in Paul and Claire’s position, what would
you do?


message 2: by Mia (new) - added it

Mia (miapea) | 359 comments I'm not going to answer the questions per se, but I figured that, since there are already spoilers here, it's a good place to comment about specifics of the book even if everyone hasn't finished it yet.

Some random thoughts: one thing that bugged me is that they insinuate that he had a diagnosis of Asperger disorder (confirmed this by googling the author's intentions), although he seemed to have some convenient Asperger symptoms along with much more of an Antisocial personality (not very Aspy at all). Also, neither Asperger's nor Antisocial personality can be picked up from an amnio!

I guess, as a shrink, I have to let go of actually wanting authors to be accurate about their diagnostics and realize that authors patch together and label bits and pieces of real diagnoses to create convenient syndromes to suit their characters. :-)

I did like the way it gradually unfolded -- Paul's feelings about being the younger brother of a much more socially apt older brother certainly did seem to shape him, just as growing up with a horrible prick like Paul shaped Michel's horrific character. And I didn't expect Serge to be the only one of them to want to do the right thing.

Ultimately, like with Gone Girl, I ended up hating them all - even Serge and Beau who were leaning toward doing the "right" thing were self-serving and morally empty - and wanting to cleanse my palate with something else!


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments I don't concern myself with whether I love or hate the characters. I figure if an author can make you have strong emotions about a person in his book, then he's done his job.

I think the author actually intended to have his readers hate these people. That was the idea of the book - he was showing us just how obnoxious a family could be.


message 4: by Mia (new) - added it

Mia (miapea) | 359 comments Yep, as Diane and I both said - not sure if I "liked" the book, per se, but it did make me feel some things (and those things made me want to take a shower!) so it did its job and was memorable. Will I read it again? Probably not. :-)


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 1. In the beginning of the novel we meet Paul and
his wife Claire as they walk to the restaurant. Paul
talks about his idea of happiness and quotes from
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. What do you think he
means when he says that ‘unhappiness can’t stand
silence’?

***** It was good of him not to use the Tolstoy first line - ha ha!

We tend to find it easier when something has been brought out into the open and at least one person involved is willing to discuss it with you. It's like naming the 'monster' ... if you give it a name, it takes away its power.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 2. We learn that Serge and Babette adopted a child,
Beau, from Burkina Faso. What do you think the
underlying motivation was?

***** Showing off. Trying to show the public how congenial they were, how compassionate they were about people.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 3. Paul’s violent inclinations start to appear when
he describes the holiday with his brother in
France, where he imagines killing the Dutch
people, mentioning violent American films such as
Deliverance and Straw Dogs. Why do you think Paul
feels this way?

***** Why? Movies like Deliverance and Straw Dogs are probably to blame. Although he had no real experience with situations like that, he was afraid of the possibility. Afraid of other people.

Actually, my own feelings about really bad criminals aren't much different. I like the idea of a PrisonPlanet ... but I won't enlarge upon that. My thoughts might not fall under the list of what I am told I am supposed to think.

People rarely come out and say what they really think anymore. We are told what we are to think by the media. Look at the way the newscaster hikes her eyebrows up to her scalp when an event that involved SMOKING is reported. She's telling you what you're supposed to feel.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 4. When Paul finds out about what his son has done
and confronts him in his bedroom, he remembers
a scene when Michel was eight years old. How did
this incident influence Paul’s reaction now?

***** I think Paul feels guilty about the way he handled things - smoothed things over - when the boy was eight. He probably feels he's partly to blame for what led Michel to commit this crime.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 5. How and to what extent do you think Michel is
influenced by his father’s rage?

***** Michel knows his father is the kind you have to deal with as if you were walking on eggshells.

His father is easily ticked off - easily enraged. He doesn't really know how far he could go.


message 10: by Carly (last edited Oct 01, 2013 04:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 6. Serge Lohman is willing to sacrifice his entire
political career in light of the crime that his son
has committed. What do you think his real motive
is? Why does his wife so vehemently oppose his
decision?

***** I think he wanted to quit politics - he wanted an excuse to quit. It surprised me that his staying in the race for PM was so important to his wife.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 7. The author has set the novel over a meal in a
classy restaurant. What do you think he is trying to
illustrate by this choice?

***** Mostly, the pretensions of people, in general. How a business owner will fawn over people who are considered to be important and/or about to become important.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 8. The novel reveals moral ambiguities regarding
the nature of evil, loyalty, love and honesty. What
shapes these ambiguities?

***** An instinct for survival. Paul was afraid of losing his place in the world - he often went off like a cornered rat. He was damned if he was going to give an inch of territory and would lie, steal and justify murder.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 9. Do you think people can be born with a propensity
for violence and evil, or are they more likely to be
shaped by early life, family and circumstances?

***** The latter ... it's passed down through the family, I think.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments 10. If you were in Paul and Claire’s position, what would you do?

***** I'd hope one of us had more gumption that those two. Paul was bad enough, but Claire? She was happily encouraging her son to go out and kill his cousin, just to get it all out of the way.

She didn't like Beau, that's true - and the kid was a piece of work. But it wasn't worth getting blood on your hands.


Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 32 comments In general, I enjoyed the book - I did it on audio and the narrator was really good at doing the characters.

The people - each of them, were preposterous. I can't think of anyone in the story that I liked.

That, however, doesn't mean I didn't like the story as it was told.


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