Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Sins of the Father


"The Dinner" by Herman Koch is rather popular right now and it reminds me that I am really 'out of touch'.  I went along with the  pace of the book even though it was frustrating.
  I knew that the author had something to say, but was taking a very long time to say it.  Half-way through the book, it is apparent that the author is trying to set up a moral dilemma for parents : "How far would you go to protect your child?"
   I love dilemmas, but by the end of the book, I was disturbed to think that this situation was at all debatable. We really have lost our moral compass when we cover up for a son who is torturing and killing homeless people.

The Plot
 Two brothers each have a son involved in torture and killing.  The whole book is about the meal the brothers and their wives share to 'talk about the situation'.
  One brother, Serge, is about to run for prime minister  and he is portrayed as narcissistic and arrogant.  The other brother, Paul, is the narrator, and appears fairly tolerable at the beginning.  But, by the end, you realize that Paul is psychologically unstable- has beat up the school principal, threatened the store keeper, and attacked his brother with a hot pan.
  Serge, the brother that was described as an egocentric buffoon, ended up giving up his chance to be prime minister.  But the 'good' brother, Paul, just smiled about the 'antics'.  He believed that secrets don't get in the way of happiness- and happiness was certainly what he was fixated on. 
  But Paul definitely had psychological problems.  In several places it mentions how a damp film slid down over his eyes, or that he heard something snap, or 'something happened', also he seems to black out- there is a gap in time.

But the mother- what about the mother???
  What surprised me is that Paul's wife schemed to cover up the crimes.  When speaking about the 15-year-old boys she said, "We don't have the right to take away their childhood, simply because, according to our norms, as adults, it's a crime you should have to pay for, for the rest of your life." 

  This novel takes place in Amsterdam.  Does that make a difference?  Is their moral compass different?  Would this really be a dilemma?

  The author certainly manipulates the reader.  In some places he says, I won't tell you that".  He feeds the information to the reader as he wills and it certainly does change the whole story- all over the courses of a "dinner'.  Does that make a good read?

  And so, I see the theme of 'the sins of the father are visited on the children'. And I am aghast that it is debatable whether the parents should cover up this type of criminal behaviour in a child.

  But- at the end, the author makes a point of exposing hospital records from the birth of Paul's son and in the amniotic fluid test that was given to Paul's wife, it was noted "decision parents"(in other words, the decision was made by the parent).  Paul did not know anything about that, so I wonder if he just discovered (on the third last page) that he was not really the father.  The author makes a point that his son looked like him, so perhaps he really is his dreaded brother's son?

1 comment:

  1. I too was intrigued with what I had read about this book and had it on my To Be Read List. Thanks to you I'll now spend my time on something else.
    Gayle W.