From Left to Write Book Club: The Dinner
I received a complimentary copy of “The Dinner”. All opinions are my own. This is not a sponsored post.
Upon finding out that one of the October books for From Left to Write book club was titled The Dinner, I became understandably excited. I’d already heard of the novel and not only was I excited to get a copy of a book with a loooong wait-list at my library, but that novel takes place over the course of a meal at a fancy restaurant. Um, how up my alley is that?!
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
As you may recall from previous posts, From Left to Write book club encourages members to write not a review but a post inspired by the book they read. As you can imagine, this book in particular inspired plenty in me! What stuck out to me most was the way the highly-cynical narrator (Paul) pointed out many subtle restaurant nuances that to him, seem absolutely ridiculous. I had to laugh because I’d seen plenty of them before!
Paul comments on the waiter’s explanation of each dish, which involves extremely long-winded descriptions of each ingredient and its origin, and notes that “it seemed to be far too much fuss”. He also feels annoyed by the waiter’s tendency to point at each dish with his pinky as he describes it. “Why would anyone point with their pinky? Was that supposed to be chic? Did it go with the suit with blue pinstripes, or the light-blue hankie?…His other fingers, after all, were hidden the whole time…perhaps they were covered with flaky eczema…” While I’ve never noticed the pinky thing, I can relate to waiters making an effort to inform me of my dish’s ingredients and information about them, especially at wine dinners. It is a bit funny because most of the time, that information flies out of my head before I even take my first bite (unless I write it down for a later blog post). I feel like usually I enjoy the dish the same amount whether or not I get those extra tidbits from the waiter.
I could relate more to Paul’s annoyance at the waiter offering he and his wife Claire the aperitif of the evening, bringing it after they accept, and charging them for it. This has happened to me at restaurants before; I can’t stand when a waiter asks, “Would you like some bread?” and then I see it on my bill at the end of the evening. Well yes I’d like some bread but not if you are going to make me pay for it! As Claire says, “It’s almost like they do it on purpose, to see if you’ll fall for it.”
Once a bottle of wine is ordered, the unfortunate soul who brings it over first struggles with opening it, and then gets half the cork stuck in the bottle. I’ve never seen that exact situation but I have certainly awkwardly watched waiters wrestle with wine bottles. I always make an awkward joke like, “Oh I do that at home all the time!” because it feels even more awkward to watch him or her struggle in silence, and well, I actually DO break wine corks all the time. Once though I did stare in silence as a waiter poured water for my friend and I from a pitcher, and I’m pretty sure half the pitcher’s contents ended up on the floor. But he just kept on pouring and kept on spilling. As soon as he walked away without a word (I’m sure very embarrassed), I burst out laughing.
I loved The Dinner, and not just because it took place (mostly) in a restaurant. The book kept me turning the pages and I flew through it. I stayed up past “bedtime” to get through just a few more chapters. I highly recommend it, and you can check out my Goodreads review here.
Can you think of any subtle nuances about restaurants that are even just a little bit ridiculous?
Have you ever been charged for something a waiter offers you that seems to be “on the house”?
Have you ever witnessed a waiter struggle to open a bottle of wine or do something else?