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Authors: Herman Koch

The Dinner

BOOK: The Dinner
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First published in the Netherlands in 2009 by Ambo Anthos, Amsterdam.

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Atlantic Books, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Herman Koch, 2009
Translation Copyright © Sam Garrett, 2012

The moral right of Herman Koch to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

The moral right of Sam Garrett to be identified as the translator of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

The publishers gratefully acknowledge the support of the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Trade Paperback ISBN: 978 1 84887 382 7

OME ISBN: 978 0 85789 720 6

E-Book ISBN: 978 1 84887 386 5

Atlantic Books
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26–27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ
www.atlantic-books.co.uk

THE DINNER
CONTENTS
 

APERITIF

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

44

45

46

 
APERITIF
1
 

We were going out to dinner. I won’t say which restaurant, because next time it might be full of people who’ve come to see whether we’re there. Serge made the reservation. He’s always the one who arranges it, the reservation. This particular restaurant is one where you have to call three months in advance – or six, or eight, don’t ask me. Personally, I’d never want to know three months in advance where I’m going to eat on any given evening, but apparently some people don’t mind. A few centuries from now, when historians want to know what kind of crazies people were at the start of the twenty-first century, all they’ll have to do is look at the computer files of the so-called ‘top’ restaurants. That information is kept on file, I happen to know that. If Mr L was prepared to wait three months for a window seat last time, then this time he’ll wait for five months for a table beside the men’s room – that’s what restaurants call ‘customer relations management’.

Serge never reserves a table three months in advance. Serge makes the reservation on the day itself, he says he thinks of it as a sport. You have restaurants that reserve a table for people like Serge Lohman, and this restaurant happens to be one of them. One of many, I should say. It makes you wonder whether there isn’t one restaurant in the whole country where they don’t get faint right away when they hear the name Serge Lohman on the phone. He doesn’t make the call himself, of course, he lets his secretary or one of his assistants do that. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he told me when I talked to him a few days ago. ‘They know me there, I can get us a table.’ All I’d asked was whether it wasn’t a good idea to call, in case they were full, and where we would go if they were. At the other end of the line, I thought I heard something like pity in his voice. I could almost see him shake his head. It was a sport.

There was one thing I didn’t feel like that evening. I didn’t feel like being there when the owner or on-duty manager greeted Serge Lohman as though he were an old friend; or seeing how the waitress would lead him to the nicest table on the side facing the garden, or how Serge would act as though he had it all coming to him, that deep down he was still an ordinary guy and that was why he felt entirely comfortable among other, ordinary people.

Which was precisely why I’d told him we would meet in the restaurant itself and not, as he’d suggested, at the café around the corner. It was a café where a lot of ordinary people went. How Serge Lohman would walk in there like a regular guy, with a grin that said that all those ordinary people should above all go on talking and act as though he wasn’t there – I didn’t feel like that, either.

2
 

The restaurant is only a few blocks from our house, so we walked. That also took us past the café where I hadn’t wanted to meet Serge. I had my arm around my wife’s waist, her hand was tucked somewhere inside my coat. The sign outside the café was lit with the warm, red and white colours of the brand of beer they had on tap.

‘We’re still too early,’ I said to my wife. ‘What I mean is: if we went to the restaurant now, we’d be right on time.’

My wife: I should stop calling her that. Her name is Claire. Her parents named her Marie Claire, but in time Claire didn’t feel like sharing her name with a magazine. Sometimes I call her Marie, just to tease her. But I rarely refer to her as my wife – on official occasions sometimes, or in sentences like ‘My wife can’t come to the phone right now,’ or ‘My wife is very sure she asked for a room with a sea view.’

On evenings like this, Claire and I make the most of the moments when it’s still just the two of us. Then it’s as though everything is still up for grabs, as though the dinner date was only a misunderstanding, as though it’s just the two of us out on the town. If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this: happiness needs nothing but itself, it doesn’t have to be validated. ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,’ is the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s
Anna Karenina
. All I could hope to add to that is that unhappy families – and within those families, in particular the unhappy husband and wife – can never get by on their own. The more validators the merrier. Unhappiness loves company. Unhappiness can’t stand silence – especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone.

So when the bartender at the café put our beers down in front of us, Claire and I smiled at each other, in the knowledge that we would soon be spending an entire evening in the company of the Lohmans: in the knowledge that this was the finest moment of that evening, that from here on it would all be downhill.

I didn’t feel like going to the restaurant. I never do. A fixed appointment for the immediate future is the gates of hell, the actual evening is hell itself. It starts in front of the mirror in the morning: what you’re going to wear, and whether or not you’re going to shave. At times like these, after all, everything is a statement, a pair of torn and stained jeans as much as a neatly ironed shirt. If you don’t scrape off the day’s stubble, you were too lazy to shave; two days’ beard immediately makes them wonder whether this is some new look; three days or more is just a step from total dissolution. ‘Are you feeling all right? You’re not sick, are you?’ No matter what you do, you’re not free. You shave, but you’re not free. Shaving is a statement as well. Apparently you found this evening significant enough to go to the trouble of shaving, you see the others thinking – in fact, shaving already puts you behind 1–0.

And then I always have Claire to remind me that this isn’t an evening like every other. Claire is smarter than I am. I’m not saying that out of some half-baked feminist sentiment or in order to endear women to me. You’ll never hear me claim that ‘women in general’ are smarter than men. Or more sensitive, more intuitive, or that they are more ‘in touch with life’, or any of the other horseshit that, when all is said and done, so-called ‘sensitive’ men try to peddle more often than women themselves.

BOOK: The Dinner
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