First Lines: De donkere kamer van Damokles

W.F. Hermans’s De donkere kamer van Damokles is a bona-fide Ductch literary classic. As I somehow managed to avoid it in highschool, I put it on my list of 40 books to read before my 40th birthday. With this one, it’s twenty-six down, fourteen to go, with roughly five years left.

It’s World War II, and Osewoudt isn’t much of a hero. He’s a scrawny little man, who runs a tobacconist’s shop with his wife (he married his ugly, seven year older older cousin), takes care of his mother (who killed his father when he was twelve), and, well, nothing important ever happens to him. He’s completely unremarkable, until he meets Dorbeck, an officer in the Dutch army, who gets him involved in the Dutch resistance. From thereon it gets wonky.

The main wonk happens when Osewoudt is taken prisoner at the end of the war, on account of suspicion of treason and being in cahoots with the Gestapo. You see, he may claim he was ordered around by Dorbeck, but given that he cannot be found … it gets wonky.

Even though I’m not all that into WWII and thrillers with lots of twists and turns, but as a whole, I liked De donkere kamer van Damokles. Probably on account of Hermans’s language. He has a way with words. Take for example Osewoudt’s wife comparing him to Dorbeck: Jij lijkt op hem zoals een mislukte pudding lijkt op een … weet ik veel … op een pudding die wel gelukt is. You look as much like a pudding that hasn’t set properly looks like … a pudding that has set properly. I mean, ouch.

Book read
Willem Frederik Hermans — De donkere kamer van Damokles
First line
…Dagenlang zwierf hij rond op zijn vlot, zonder drinken.