Chapter Excerpt

As the restaurant is only a few streets from our house, we walked. That led us past the bar where I hadn't wanted to meet Serge. I had wrapped my arm around my wife's waist, her hand was somewhere under my coat. Shining on the façade of the bar was the warm, red-and-white neon sign advertising the brand of beer they served inside. "We're too early," I said. "Or more precisely, if we go now, we're going to be right on time."

My wife - I should stop saying that. She's called Claire. Her parents had named her Marie Claire, but later Claire didn't like having exactly the same name as a magazine. Sometimes I call her Marie to tease her. But I hardly ever call her my wife - now and then when speaking officially, in sentences like "My wife can't come to the telephone at the moment," or "My wife really was sure that she had booked a room with a sea view."

On evenings like this Claire and I cherish the moments in which we are alone together. They make us feel as if nothing is fixed, as if even the dinner appointment is a mistake and we're just out with the two of us. If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this: happiness is sufficient to itself, it doesn't need any witnesses. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," according to the first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The only thing I feel compelled to add is that the unhappy families - and within those families, the unhappy couples most of all - can never manage alone. The more witnesses, the better. Unhappiness is always in search of company.

Excerpted from The Dinner by Herman Koch
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