Had I seen Christos Tsoilkas' blurb review (which features on the back of The Dinner) before choosing this book, I might not have read it. That's how much I hated The Slap. And there are similarities between the two- all the characters are horrible and the plot centers around a violent act and its repercussions.
But there are differences also: there's less misogeny in The Dinner for one. I think that Tsoilkas writes better, but that could be the fault of translation... There were some sentences that just smacked of translation issues. For example, an exchange between a drunk couple: "And which of us is in any state to drive?" just doesn't ring true.
The premise is good: two couples meet over an expensive dinner to discuss the terrible act their sons have committed. The fact that their crime has been caught on camera provides another layer of conflict, as does the political role that one of the fathers holds.
As I say, all of these characters are unlikable, even the minor characters who do little more than describe the food or overfill the wine glasses are represented unfavorably. The narrator starts off justifiably horrified by what his done has done, but soon enough we learn about his own violent tendencies. As always, the nature/ nurture debate.
The Dinner certainly is gripping and leaves an aftertaste.
What to say about the ride that Zadie Smith takes readers on in NW?
There is barely a plot, the reading is tricky in some parts (especially if you're unfamiliar with the location and patois) the ending is loosely drawn together, and yet...
There are moments of utter clarity and brilliant writing. The Felix section stands out for me, perhaps because, in contrast to the Leah section before it, there is more in the way of traditional narrative conventions. Also, knowing what is about to happen provides momentum.
Keisha/ Natalie and Leah struggle to escape class and race constraints; they have moved up and away, but not so far that they can't still interact with those who haven't. Their problems transgress the post code though, and it is here that (mostly female?) readers will find the connection.
I liked the style of the final section where intertextual references (like Beehive= Amy Winehouse) were scattered through, enough to ground the reader in that time, that place...
I get the feeling Smith wants her readers to work a bit.
And the payoff for the work is enough.
AMcS is a guaranteed pleasure, I love all his series. The Dalhousie books are more philosophical than others, although you will find wisdom in all his characters. This narrative involves art theft and a divided family. Very satisfactory.
Fortunately, I had the house to myself when I finished The Fault in Our Stars because I sobbed into my pillow. Beautifully written, you'll remember Gus and Hazel long after you finish.
Read it and weep!