Book review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch was a an odd, dark novel.  The book is told from Paul’s point of view and the plot is revealed through the course of a dinner, for the most part, through Paul’s memories and flashbacks.The other diners include Paul’s wife, Claire, Paul’s brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette.  Their sons are also characters in the book, even though they don’t attend dinner.

Readers tend to have a bias in that they trust the first person narrators.  Through Paul’s eyes, we see his brother as a boorish lout and Babette as spoiled.  As the evening progresses, we start to see faults coming out, especially in Paul.  In the end, all of the characters seem mentally unhinged … and comparatively, Serge doesn’t seem so bad.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but this is probably the first book I’ve read where I despised the first person narrator.  All in all, the book was a decent read because of the way it unfolded.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

As you can tell from my last 3 reviews, I’m on a bit of a Neil Gaiman kick.  American Gods is, on the surface, a story about a man (Shadow) who encounters different gods.  Some of the gods are old gods from mythology that we are familiar with – Odin, Horus, Bast, etc., – and some of them are ones that Gaiman has created (the god of television, technology).

In this story the two sides are headed towards an epic battle to see who will come out on top.  You could view it as the battle between the old world and the new world.  Our world has changed so rapidly with all of our technological advances that there’s a clash between the values that our ancestors brought with them to America and the values that we are developing in today’s wired society.

This is at the heart of what the book is about – it’s about America.  The proverbial melting pot, in this case, consists of gods and how we worship.  Fading, and almost forgotten, are the old gods who required sacrifices while the new gods gain power.

Shadow is asked to pick sides.  At times, both sides seem to be harming him.  At times the book is disturbing (sacrifices), but it has Gaiman’s recurring theme of alternate or between-worlds.  While there was no above or below world, Shadow does, at one point, travel to an in between where most people can’t see him.

Coins are another theme in this book.  Shadow likes to do tricks with coins.  He constantly performs coin tricks throughout the book.  He also receives special coins – first a gold one and then a silver one.  The coin tricks are symbolic of how the gods deal people and with each other.  Gaiman mentions several times that Shadow has to palm the coins and draw attention away the hand with the coins.  Wednesday does the same thing in his money scams.  He does it at a convenience store and ends up not paying for gas.  He does it at restaurants.  He also describes more ruses that follow the same principle to Shadow.

Spoiler warning – don’t read the next part if you haven’t read the book.

In the end, the reader learns that it’s all a false dichotomy.  It’s never a clear cut either/or situation.  It’s up to us to choose the third option.  We don’t need to forget about our past to adapt to our present or our future..