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Het diner - Herman Koch "Happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn't have to be validated....But a world without disasters and violence--be it the violence of nature of that of muscle and blood--would be the truly unbearable thing." No, these don't actually flow into each other perfectly in the novel, but all of the text between shows the psychological continuum upon which we all tread.

I loved the tone. The narrator was so supercilious and condescending while simultaneously critical of the same characteristics in his brother. It was so obvious a case of sibling rivalry that I found myself chuckling out loud at times.

The plot was not really suspenseful in that the reader is able to figure out the twists fairly quickly (just as quickly as the narrator, in fact). The suspense in this book came from the questions about how things would unfold. It reminded me of a quote from Mr. Peanut (I'm not sure if it is a valid quote or not) about how Alfred Hitchcock maintained that the suspense was not in surprising the viewer; the suspense was created by the viewer knowing what was going to happen (and in fact knowing something that the characters did not), but wondering how it was going to play out and wanting (but being unable) to warn the characters of their impending doom.

I loved the way that Koch weaved the motifs of racism and sexism and class-ism throughout the book. The stories at the beginning of the dinner (about Scarlett Johansson and Look Who's Coming to Dinner and the adopted Faso) give us a rather innocent taste of Paul. he is very careful to not classify; he defends all groups in general.

This makes the contrast so much stronger later when he starts to reveal his deep hatred. First, we get the description of the (VICTIMIZED) homeless woman who exudes such a stench that "is significant. A person who stinks cannot count on much sympathy. A stench can be blinding. No matter how human those odors are, they can actually obscure the perception of the one who stinks a as real person of flesh and blood." And following this we have the further hope that "A war needed to break out somewhere; a terrorist attack might be even better--plenty of fatalities, lots of civilian casualties over whom people could shake their heads in dismay." At this point, he is honestly hoping lots of people would die so that the public thought would be distracted from his son's murder.

And parallel with the main story and plot line we get the global hatred that Paul feels for people who are just not "good enough". He presents this argument twice: once as a way to deflate the number of victims from WWII ("it's impossible that all those victims were good people, whatever kind of people that may be. The injustice is found more in the fact that the assholes are also put on the list of innocent victims."); and another to justify killing suspects of violent crime and thereby saving the expense and hassle of jailing them or using capital punishment or even worse, releasing them into society. Of course the ultimate irony is that during the time that the story is unfolding for the reader, Michel is actively committing his second murder. Giving us a perfect example of the recidivistic nature of the criminal.

We also have the four incidents with the bike shop guy, Serge when Claire is in the hospital, Paul's principal when he suggests Paul take a leave of absence and then the principal of Michel's school. I found the description of these scenes to be fabulous in the way that they were just subtly different so that in each case we completely understand why Paul is able to regain control and not attack the other person (when he doesn't) and why he is unable to prevent himself from attacking (when he does).

As an aside, part of the reason this book took me so long to finish (it really was only a few hour read) is that I am currently in a production of Neil Simon's Rumors. That show is about a group of self serving upper class New Yorkers who are also faced with making a decision about covering up a potential crime. Babette's fight with Serge near the end of the meal reminded me so much of the show.

Overall this was an engrossing book; I thought the pacing was spot on, the plot was compelling, and the moral discussions fascinating.