Night walk
Photo by marie-II used under a Creative Commons license.

Willem Fredrik Hermans, The Darkroom of Damocles (Overlook, 2008).
A thriller about the occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, and more. Too short to serve in the army, Henri Osewoudt runs a tobacco shop in V, but after the country is occupied, he finds himself aiding the resistance under the direction of Dorbeck, an army officer who could be his twin. When the war is over, though, Osewoudt struggles to establish his bona fides.  The action moves all over Holland, from The Hague to Amsterdam to Lunteren to Breda, but much of it centers on Voorschoten and Leiden. The book forces you to turn the pages, but don’t turn them too fast — there is more going on here. This edition is Ina Rilke’s recent translation.

William Rycroft gives this introduction to Hermans. The Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature offers this. Wikipedia’s page on him is here. The Complete Review describes it as a dark novel of a hapless soul trying to do right but in over his head. Stuart McGurk (The Financial Times) says it’s both an existential romp and a witty parable. Neel Mukherjee (The Telegraph) says it’s an edgy, uneasy novel about the human condition, effortlessly disguised as a thriller. Scott Esposito says it’s a riveting detective story and more. John Baker says the narrative is both a metaphysical mystery and a straight-forward wartime thriller. John Self appreciated the existential elements more than the plot of the thriller. Ben McNally says it’s action packed and psychologically irresistible. James Smith says Hermans leaves the reader in a crepuscular world of half-truths. Lizzy Siddal calls it increasingly Kafkaesque. Peter Guttridge (The Guardian) calls it brilliant. It made the longlist for the Best Translated Book of 2008 (more here).

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