In a sharp new translation, the first standalone English-language edition arrives more than half a century after the book first appeared in Dutch. But be glad that it has finally emerged. It remains a shocking read ... exploding the prevailing postwar discourse of brave resistance to the Nazi occupation with a story of selfish opportunism and amoral nihilism ... The narrator turns out to be just as foul as the Nazis, while maintaining a gallows humor and deadpan clarity that make him a disturbingly engaging presence. This is a brutal story that’s all the more shocking because it packs its ferocious series of punches into just 80 pages. It takes an hour or two to read, but An Untouched House is the kind of book that stays with you for ever.
An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated by David Colmer...is so hauntingly strange as to be like a dream, but one that becomes a violent nightmare ... Comparisons with Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut and even Kafka are not unreasonable, but Hermans has his own strong flavor. An Untouched House is shocking, and the seeming collapse of moral consequence is properly unsettling.
An Untouched House offers no sides to be on, no causes to fight for other than one’s own survival ... Hermans’s novella is a bleak depiction of the absurdity of war, which knows no winners ... In its relatively short span of pages, An Untouched House paints not only the ugly face of war in all its arbitrariness but also leaves us with a strong sense of misanthropy, where '[i]f people stopped feeling altogether, the world would be greatly improved.'
In An Untouched House... Willem Frederik Hermans presents a lucid, exhilarating account of a Dutch partisan in the waning months of World War II ... Although An Untouched House is brief, it is worth pacing oneself and absorbing its remarkable density. Hermans is the architect of a masterful story –– concise but expansive in vision.
... the ninety-nine pages of narrative are so explosive as to make one feel like you’re smuggling a weapon — something efficient and brutal, like the hand grenade that the protagonist lobs in the final pages ... Those who do simply open and read will find themselves immersed in a nightmare miniature where philosophical musing gives seamless way to beautiful but unyielding cruelty ... readers who are, like me, new to Hermans will also think of more familiar authors who have imprinted the nihilism of the war. Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller are the obvious correlates...
The cruelty and absurdity of war shapes the events of Hermans’s devastating novella ... Hermans...juxtaposes the randomness of the war’s atrocities with the bravado of one of the Nazis, whose boast that he has ritually shaved at the same time every morning for 40 years proves to be a grotesquely ironic effort to impose order upon a disordered world. This portrayal of a seemingly immaculate dwelling revealed to be 'rancid and rotting at its core' is a powerful reflection on an inherently violent world.
In his informative afterword to this slim but potent war story, Cees Nooteboom writes that Dutch author Hermans...adopted the credo of 'creative nihilism, aggressive pity, total misanthropy.' All of those dark moods are on full display here, but Hermans conjures them so subtly that the full force of his despair doesn’t arrive until the closing pages ... Fire, a suicide attempt, torture, and hanging are all shadowed by men killing with a cynical, mocking cruelty, stressing Hermans’ point that dreams of peace can easily become entangled in violence. A dark wartime vision that evokes Koestler, Orwell, and Vonnegut.