The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garret, is best read or listened to without having too much information about it beforehand. (This review is spoiler-free!) The book is written in sections named for meal courses, and takes place over a lengthy meal at an exclusive restaurants. Watch out for reviews that will have you knowing too much by the end of the Apéritif section if you want to get the full impact of the story.
The AudioGO audiobook, read by Clive Mantle, won a well-deserved April 2013 Earphones Award for exceptional audiobook productions from AudioFile Magazine. The voice of the book’s narrator, Paul Lohmann, a regular person who would have preferred to eat at the “regular people cafe” across the street drips with disdain for his older brother Serge (pronounced the French way) — the favored candidate for Prime Minister in the next election. Because he’s a celebrity, Serrrrge (drawn out with sarcastic reverence by Paul each time) was able to get a table on short notice for the two couples – Paul and his wife Claire, and Serge and his wife Babette – to have an emergency conversation about their sons. Their sons, who have a problem that has to be dealt with.
Occasionally, Clive Mantle’s voicing of Babette (with a slight falsetto to distinguish her from Claire, who sounds more natural) sounds too shrill. But there’s a great deal of tension at this restaurant table for four, so a little shrillness is in order. Babette, as the brother’s wife, doesn’t play a large role anyway. This is a story of brothers – ambitious Serge and unemployed Paul – and a nuclear family that keeps to itself – Paul, Claire, and their son Michel – just trying to be happy in their own, regular way.
Put it this way, this is one family dinner you may not want to attend if you’re not in the mood for one tense moment after another, from trivial complaints about the restaurant service to the deadly serious. I would recommend this to audiobook listeners who liked The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, narrated by Satya Bhabha, another excellent audiobook production from AudioGO.
Koch, Hans (trans., Sam Garret)
Mantle, Clive (narr.)
9 hrs. on 8 CDs
Disclosure: I received a free download of the audiobook for review from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox.