Herman Koch takes you to the dark side of Amsterdam –
A summer’s evening in Amsterdam. Two couples meet at a restaurant. They talk about what couples do, but beside the seemingly normal and rather cosy chit chat there is utter anguish at despair at what their teenage sons have done.
Their children, their flesh and blood have committed a horrifying act. To make matters worse, they have been caught on camera, grainy CCTV images – despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents.
Asthe parents tuck into their starters, they have to decide what to do. Who really is to blame?
Apart from the setting in a unknown restaurant in Amsterdam, the sense of place is rather that of Dutch society and the role of parents and the portrayal of family life. You won’t like the people in the novel and in fact as I did, you will probably utterly despise them – Paul in particular who as the main narrator has a lot to say for himself about politicians, the state of the world etc etc but whether you can or should believe him is another matter entirely.
The structure of the novel – the serving of each course and the tasting of the various flavours suited this plot perfectly – the pretentiousness of the restaurant staff and the snobbery apparent is pitch perfect
The characters may be hateful yet a good story doesn’t necessarily have to have likable ones to be interesting – and these certainly are multilayered and very complex characters. Paul Lohman is also very dark and as for his brother Serge? Brrrr
Dark secrets in bourgeois families are definitely on the menu -and that’s just for starters – for the main course there is the preoccupation with appearances, and for desert – hiding the skeletons hidden in the closet.
This is one of those books that I’m unsure of the ending and think that this was meant to be the case. Interpretation is a good thing when reading a book and when sat in one location, in the midst of a snobby restaurant and waiting for each dish to be served up, the service, the atmosphere and the comments around the table were fascinating. Weird but fascinating.