Last night I read Herman Koch’s novel ‘The Dinner‘. Waves of satire and mystery leads to a dark whirlpool; and it all occurs under the perfectly placid cover of harmonious domesticity, husbands who love their wives, wives who find their husbands charming even after two decades of marriage, children who never get into trouble at school and never did drugs, families with massive wealth, power and a clockwork happiness. The events unfold over a dinner at a ridiculously expensive restaurant where the manager points his little finger to painstakingly describe each little portion of food set amidst the vast emptiness of the plates. Two brothers, one of them famous, and their wives gets together to discuss and find a way to undo the damages their children had caused. Violence springs up as memories are fetched from the not too distant past, and the reader is forced to review and rearrange their perspectives frequently. How well can you know a person? How far can you go to protect the ones you love? How thin is the line between self-righteousness and the sinister, and how easily can one jump to and fro over it? Obvious violence and gore can disgust, yet it never reaches the proportion of those that are veiled and implied and wholly unexpected. And this novel in its cold and tangential handling of threats and veiled crimes is both disturbing and funny, and hence highly addictive.
I had upped my reading pace recently and read twenty books in the past two months. I highly recommend the following:
a) ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran: A contemporary take on feminism, part-memoir and one of the most hilarious books I have read in quite some time. From menstruation to masturbation, muffin tops to jutting cheekbones, workplace politics to strip clubs, Scarlett Johansson’s breasts to Germaine Greer’s books, dealing with siblings to awesome gay friends, disastrous love affairs to stable marriages, pregnancy to abortions, weddings to remaining childless by choice, appallingly long labour to handling toddlers, the book deals with them all. It is sharp, witty, agitating and raises up the right questions.
b) ‘tiny, beautiful things’ by Cheryl Strayed: It is a compilation of the ‘Dear Sugar‘ advice columns and offers astoundingly empathic and deeply personal insights into love, everyday life, grief, unexpected setbacks, shaky friendships, self-doubts and more. Each letter of advice is a literary nugget.
c) ‘Bossypants’ by Tina Fey: You see the trend here, don’t you? Strong, career-minded, family-oriented, hilarious and bad ass feminist authors. Fey is no different.
d) ‘Incognito’ by David Eagleman: I wrote about it here.e) ‘Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction‘ selected by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher R. Beha: You can find it here.f) ‘Big Questions from Little People’ by Gemma Elwin Harris: It has experts in various fields of physics, space exploration, philosophy, literature and many more answering the questions of children that includes the profound enquiries about love and what good comprises of, and even questions about farting cows! The questions are answered in all seriousness and to the best of the understanding of the children. The simplicity and fun trivia that the book provides makes it a delightful, easy read.
g) ‘The Dinner’ by Herman Koch: scroll to the top of this post.
h) ‘Before She Met Me’ by Julian Barnes: This is a novella about a man’s insecurity and disproportionate jealousy about his second wife’s sexual past as a struggling actress in films of questionable taste, and how a seemingly harmless obsession of a perfectly ‘normal’ person can spiral out of control into dark and menacing consequences. It reminded me of ‘The Dinner‘ in its sinister subject yet irrepressible humour.
And here are the books on my reading list for the coming month:
1. ‘The Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan’ by Stefan Zweig
2. ‘Drive’ by Daniel H. Pink
3. Collected Poems (1947-1997) by Allen Ginsberg
4. ‘Staying On‘ by Paul Scott
5. ‘Humboldt’s Gift‘ by Saul Bellow
I would love to hear about your reading lists and book recommendations. Do share them in the comments section. Go read.