Sunday, November 4, 2018

Book review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

Book Summary
We’ve been waiting for an hour. That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends within her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

Flo's Review
As soon as I learned of this book, I wanted to read it. The whole question about "What 5 five people, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?" is one that has floated around for years. It was definitely a great idea to take this question and run with it. Rebecca Serle did it in an interesting way. In her interpretation of the question, the 5 people you'd have at your dinner table are there because they reflect some aspect of your life -- unresolved issues, people you can't live without, etc. It's not just, "Chris Hemsworth, because he's hot and I want to listen to his accent." (HEY. No judging anyone on my list! 😂) 

It was interesting how Serle chose to bring this theory to life. She didn't dwell on the questions of "how." The main character, Sabrina, only quickly wonders where the people at her table currently are, how they got there, what happens after the dinner ends, and little thing such as what happens if one person leaves the table. I did like that these issues were minimized, because that's not really what the book was about. The book was about Sabrina's unresolved issues with her father, Tobias, and her best friend Jessica. 

At the same time, I would have liked a little more detail. The list starts off as Audrey Hepburn, Sabrina's grandmother, Sabrina's father, Plato, and Tobias. Serle explains that because Sabrina's relationship with Jessica changed, Sabrina went back and amended the list to include Jessica instead of her grandmother. At one point there is a sentence or so about how Plato got changed to Sabrina's old teacher, Conrad. This one, to me, wasn't explained well. Sabrina had a class with him and liked him? Okay? She had something with every other person at the table -- even Audrey Hepburn makes sense in the scheme of Sabrina's life -- but Conrad didn't. As far as the storyline, he was good at facilitating and moving the plot forward, so I understand why he was helpful in that regard. But his presence made zero sense as far as being one of Sabrina's five.

I read a lot of YA fiction. It's a good escape from adult reality, because at the end of a YA contemporary novel, the couples get together and kiss, and that's the end of it. But reality is that it's not. Reality is that the "Happily Ever After" is hard. That's what this book is about. As we grow, love grows and evolves for us, based on our lives. In other words, the idea of love at 25 years old is going to look different than the idea of love at 35 years old. And it should, because you, as a person, at 25 years old are different than at 35 years old. And 45 years old. Lasting love grows and evolves with both parties involved.

But for Sabrina and Tobias, it didn't. Their love flourished and worked best as first love, as young 20s love. But as they grew up, their love didn't. It stayed the same. And that led to problems for them and their relationship. A song from the 80s laments in the chorus, "Sometimes love just ain't enough." I feel like that song could be the theme for this book. Sabrina and Tobias loved each other. Fiercely. But that wasn't enough for them. Their love needed to be the foundation, the start, in order for them both to succeed in all areas of their lives. Not the be-all, end-all. That's what this book was about.

The Dinner List did a great job of exploring this topic is a fun, unique way. It was delightful to read about a dinner with Audrey Hepburn sitting there, telling everyone about the things she loved when she was alive. At times I was frustrated with Sabrina, but that makes sense -- I think she was frustrated with herself and her situation, and that translated into her actions. She was also deeply sad to her core and there was a lot that she didn't understand. I could feel her just wanting to understand. This dinner was her way of trying to do that. To understand, to accept, and to move on. 

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