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The Darkroom of Damocles Paperback – October 27, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"I plunged into this novel intimidated at first by its length, then astonished to find myself unable to put it down. For this is a thriller, a long chain of event during which the suspense never flags... exact and dry, rich in detail but fast-moving, frighteningly real yet verging on the incredible." -- Milan Kundera

"Striking, suspenseful...Brilliant" -- The Obsever --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Willem Frederik Hermans was born in Amsterdam in 1921 and studied physical geography before becoming a lecturer at Groningen University. Disaffected with academia and his native country, he took up residence in Paris in 1973. He is the author of numerous novels, essays, plays and poems, and is considered one of the greatest post-war European writers. His novel Beyond Sleep, his first book to appear in English translation, was published recently by Harvill Secker. He died in 1995. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590200810
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590200810
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,355,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By J. Connelly on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you like Hermans and enjoyed Beyond Sleep, you will enjoy this book as well. The slippery identities of the the main character (Henri Osewoudt) and his doppelganger (Dorbeck) are at the heart of this novel about the WW II Underground in Holland--nothing is certain; everything shifts; and there is more than a touch of Kafka here. I had ordered it from Amazon.uk last year after reading Beyond Sleep and read half of it on the plane to Mongolia, only to discover on arrival that I had left it at Inchon Airport. So much did I enjoy it that I had to order a replacement copy upon returning to the US. It was worth paying for twice. Hermans is a treasure largely undiscovered by the US reading public. One hopes that Harvill Secker (UK) and Overlook Press (US) will commission Ina Rilke for further excellent translations of Hermans (perhaps his essays?). For an appreciation of Hermans, see University of Leiden Prof. Willem Otterspeer's review of Beyond Sleep in the Wall Street Journal of 7 July 2007 (p. 8): "Hermans's oeuvre is marked by detached precision and brutal directness. . . In the Netherlands, we know that small literary worlds sometimes maintain well-kept secrets. Hermans has been ours--one that we now gladly share."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Willem Frederik Hermans's novel of intrigue and espionage is told not in first person narrative but has the quality of first person narrative since the story follows one Henri Osewoudt so closely the reader looks over Osewoudt's shoulder throughout the entire novel. Occasionally the narrator conveys Osewoudt's thoughts and feeling, but it's the fast-paced action driving the story told in short unnumbered chapters, short chapters fueling a keen sense of urgency as the story unfolds in twists and turns. Hermans employs simple linear progression with no flash-backs or other time shifts - events happen as Osewoudt experiences them, starting when, after his mad mother murders his father, Osewoudt, a boy of thirteen, is sent to Amsterdam to live with his aunt and uncle and nineteen year old cousin. About five years pass and Osewoudt marries his cousin, moves back to his father's tobacco shop and is pressed into becoming an active member of the Dutch underground fighting against the Nazis in 1939. Osewouldt is the opposite of a Hollywood-style handsome hero; the author describes him as follows: "A diminutive freak, a toad reared upright. His nose was more of a button than a nose. And his eyes, even when not focusing, seemed forever narrowed, as if he could only leer, not look normally. His mouth recalled the kind of orifice through which the lowest forms of life ingest their food, not a mouth that could laugh or talk." Perhaps the author wants us to experience, reflect, and consider events happening in Nazi occupied Netherlands with a cool objective clarity rather than rooting for an attractive main character.

A man named Dorbeck recruits Osewoudt into the Dutch underground. Dorbeck has a military background and gives orders as the person squarely in charge.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read and been impressed by "Beyond Sleep" by Willem Frederik Hermans, I sought out THE DARKROOM OF DAMOCLES, which was billed to be his masterpiece. It is set in WWII, and it features a young Dutchman, Henri Osewoudt. Notwithstanding some unusual characteristics (he congenitally has no beard and is very short, his insane mother murdered his father, and he is an expert in judo), Osewoudt is basically an ordinary Dutch citizen, making a living as a tobacconist, when the Germans invade Holland. Shortly thereafter, however, he is unwittingly sucked into the Resistance by Dorbeck, who, but for a difference in coloring (Osewoudt is fair, Dorbeck is dark), is his doppelganger. Almost against his will, Osewoudt ends up participating in a series of strange events, both dishing out and being on the receiving end of various sorts of mayhem. The writing is relatively informal, the pace is rapid, and the plot, though strained in cohesiveness and plausibility, is akin to that of a thriller.

The darkroom of the title plays a prominent role in the novel, and I presume the reference to Damocles simply is an allusion to Osewoudt and his doppelganger. Otherwise I cannot divine any special profundity or symbolism in the title. Nor do I find any overriding meaning or purpose to the novel beyond depicting an insane and random world of Nazi-occupied Holland, in which actions of resistance, rather than being unequivocally heroic, are helter-skelter and permeated with moral ambiguity.

Perhaps this anti-heroic picture of the Resistance was rather new in 1958 when the novel was published, which in turn perhaps accounts for the high literary regard in which the novel reportedly is held. Fifty years later, however, I for one do not share in that enthusiasm. I much preferrred Hermans' "Beyond Sleep."
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