Dutch author Herman Koch’s novel, The Dinner, is a psychological thriller about a five-course restaurant meal that goes terribly awry; the narrative constantly forces the reader to revise his or her understanding of what is actually happening.
How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
First, I saw a real event on television: two boys molesting a homeless person at a cash machine in Barcelona. They were filmed by the CCTV cameras, and they looked such nice boys! They could have been anybody’s son. They could have been my sons. That was the starting point for me.
There are many references to American pop culture in your novel. Is American pop culture so ubiquitous, or is this a conscious bid to appeal to the American market?
It certainly is not a bid to please the American market. In the Netherlands, and most of Europe I think, American culture is present everywhere (already from the 1950s up till now). In movies, books, and music. There is some real appeal here, something that everybody (but mostly young people) tries to imitate.
Do you really believe in the extreme behavior exhibited by your characters, or are you taking things to extremes in order to question normative values we might otherwise take for granted?
I was trying to let extreme behavior look almost like “normal,” in the sense that we might question ourselves how extreme or violent we really are deep down inside. Even if we don’t act according to this behavior, we might secretly fantasize that we would like to do so.
For the past several years, American readers have been captivated by mystery and suspense fiction from Scandinavian countries. Do you think we are about to be inundated with thrillers from the Netherlands?
Let’s hope not. I don’t consider The Dinner a mystery novel in the strict sense of the word. The “mystery” is revealed very much at the beginning—the important question is what the characters are going to do with their knowledge.
So you don’t consider yourself an outlier of this genre?
I use the suspense part of the genre. In The Dinner we want to know what happens next, but there isn’t an outcome like in most thrillers where somebody is arrested or killed. Or where we learn that the killer was the nice-looking doctor we suspected the least.
What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you at a dinner or dinner party?
Someone I was with started to complain about the wine, then about the food, and finally about everything. Food and wine had to be sent back to the kitchen. I normally prefer to eat and drink everything bad without complaining, disappear, and never come back.