The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle is a compelling story about love, heartbreak, forgiveness—with a little magic, too.
The story is unique for the fact alone it covers the concept of gathering the people you love—dead or alive—at a table for one night. At this dinner table, Sabrina arrives expecting to celebrate her thirtieth birthday with just her best friend Jessica. She finds Jessica but also her father Robert, her ex Tobias, her college philosophy teacher Conrad and Audrey Hepburn gathered at the dinner. She’ll soon find out why these six people have come together for this one night. And yes, Audrey Hepburn does have a key role to play. For full synopsis, click here.
It’s easy to use the idea of composing a dinner list and wanting to include only famous people but what if it’s also people from your past and present? Think about that for a second. Why do we choose the people we do? What would you say if the dinner actually happened? Could you be honest with them and yourself? It’s such an interesting concept and provides plenty of thought.
First of all, I will say you need to go into this story with an open mind. Don’t try to figure out the logistics of how this dinner happened. The author does provide some insight but trying to overcomplicate it would take away from the story. Just go with it. The story is told from Sabrina’s perspective—during the dinner it’s first-person present and then first-person past when it goes back to Sabrina recounting her relationship with Tobias. I really liked that it was these two tenses because as the dinner part unfolds we’re experiencing it at the same time with Sabrina. And when she recounts the past, she has perspective she can add to it. The two flow together nicely.
The story focuses on love and all its complications—both romantic love and parental love. We quickly learn that Robert, her father, left her family when she was a child and went on to have another family of his own. Sabrina never had a relationship with him and while she told herself it didn’t affect her, it clearly has. I thought the dynamic and their exchanges during the dinner were impactful and quite emotional. It’s easy to paint someone as a villain when one feels wronged but oftentimes it’s much more complicated than that.
However, this story is mainly about romantic love. We know that something happened with Tobias and it seems they aren’t together anymore but we slowly learn just exactly what happened to them and the events leading up to it. Their love story is beautiful, messy and complicated. Something that was of interest was concerning Tobias’ chosen profession of photography and not wanting to be commercial or take images at weddings and such. This artistic mindset was very attractive to Sabrina in the beginning in their early 20s but when she enters her late 20s, the rose-colored glasses of pursuing one’s artistic endeavor over choosing a more stable career starts to weigh on her a bit. Something about those sections just felt so real to life. It’s an expensive world, especially in New York City, and I felt that the author painted the struggles of wanting to pursue your dream but also the consequences of it and how it impacts a relationship where the two people are very much in love. But sometimes outside circumstances can’t be ignored.
At the heart of the novel is the power of forgiveness—both to others and yourself. Sometimes you can’t move forward until you can address the past and say goodbye. And as Conrad says, “and the beat goes on.”