The Dinner

Herman Koch

First Sentence:    We were going out to dinner.

Back of the book: 

A summer’s evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a  fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness – the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened…

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reached its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Quotes from the book:

‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,’ is the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

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In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut

First Sentence: It happens like this.

This novel is split into three parts and follows Damon as he travels to various different countries, meeting different people in each one. The narration keeps changing from first person, to second person, to third person; something that would be incredibly confusing in the hands of a lesser writer, but here, Galgut makes it seem effortless. This book is bursting with potential romances; Damon and Reiner in part one, Damon and Jerome in part two, but somehow he never fully engages in one:

The story of Jerome is one he’s lived through before, it is the story of what never happened, the story of travelling a long way while standing still.

This book deals primarily with travel and human relationships, and how travel affects them, in a heartbreaking way. It is full of longing, with several insights into the philosophy of travelling:

A journey is a gesture inscribed in space, it vanishes even as it’s made.

I really enjoyed this book, in particular the final part where Damon travels to Goa with Anna, a good friend who is intent on killing herself. The prose is simple, yet incredibly affecting. A book which may not take a long time to read, but will remain in the back of your mind for a long time afterwards.

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