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The Tunnel

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  724 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Thirty years in the making, William Gass's second novel first appeared on the literary scene in 1995, at which time it was promptly hailed as an indisputable masterpiece. The story of a middle aged professor who, upon completion of his massive historical study, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany, finds himself writing a novel about his own life instead of the introduc ...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published April 1st 1999 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published February 21st 1995)
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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleUlysses by James JoyceSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoGravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
The Shandian Spawn
11th out of 171 books — 54 voters
The Third Policeman by Flann O'BrienWittgenstein's Mistress by David MarksonThe Recognitions by William GaddisThe Tunnel by William H. GassJ R by William Gaddis
Best Dalkey Archive Titles
4th out of 139 books — 53 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jul 15, 2012 B0nnie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to B0nnie by: MJ Nicholls
Shelves: favourite-books
Being William Kohler.

The Tunnel is a sort of portal through which we enter into the head of one William Frederick Kohler. We poke around in his memories and his thoughts, exploring all the little twists and turns of his mind. The question of how a child goes from innocence to becoming a monster is answered through Kohler's ramblings and flashbacks.

But monster is the wrong word here. He never achieves anything that grand. There is no murder or torture. No scheme to dominate the world. Nothing o
MJ Nicholls
The first 200 pages of this novel carry the reader aloft on flowing waves of sumptuous, musical prose: sentences so serpentine and silky, so alliteratively slinky, one’s only response is to ride these dreamy, masterful currents of polished perfection with near spiritual ecstasy. After the first 200 pages (or thereabouts) the novel takes muckier, knotty, horror-packed digressions and balances these with frequent flare-ups of the musical magical waves of Gass pleasure. The book alternates between ...more
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame

This unhesitatingly gets the full fathom 5 star treatment, because without a doubt it is an amazing work; I was amazed, among a host of other emotions, and the 26 years of labor Gass put into The Tunnel are apparent in every carefully wrought sentence in this monster masterpiece. However, it is an extremely unpleasant read, perhaps the most unpleasant and disturbing read I’ve come across in my 35 years of intellectual intake. The fact that such heights of
When this book was published in 1995 by Alfred Knopf, I was in the middle of deep reading on the Holocaust. Many of the titles I still hold in my library. I felt at the time that an inundation in this subject matter kept me from enjoying The Tunnel. I was wrong about that, though I am deeply thankful to MJ for jogging me back into a reconsideration of the novel.

I stopped reading at page 55. The main reason: lack of narrative pleasure. Let me explain.

First, the premise: a US academic specializin
What have you, my good friends, deserv'd at the hands of
Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Prison, my lord?
Denmark's a prison.
Then is the world one.
A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and
dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.

We think not so, my lord.
Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

Don’t you
For six hundred and fifty-one pages Gass invites the reader to wade through a lifetime of memories dredged—and at times perhaps cooked—up by a caustically disillusioned and despairing professor of history at a midwest American university, a reminiscence that functions as a delaying tactic against the completion of his life's work: a massive, exhaustively researched revisionist history of the Third Reich entitled Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany. Beginning his recollection with Anaxagoras' ...more
Ten stars.

“And what is the ultimate element in history but human life—human coupling, human pain?” (P.130)

Rage, or rather, impotent rage, is the dominant emotion of this book, sustained by the side notes of contempt, bitterness, and an all pervasive melancholy. At its barest bones, The Tunnel is an attempt at understanding one of the darkest chapters in History— the Holocaust. That it becomes a subterranean exploration into a person's history and time & by extrapolation an exposition on the
11/22/14, 6:54pm — A GR friend of mine is currently reading this novel. Upon noticing his status update on the book, I started to think about my own feelings of the book, and of my original slightly confused review, which is below. I started to think, again, about what went wrong here, why my reaction to this book seemed to go against the majority of my GR friends who have read it previous. And why my original three-star rating was not an accurate reflection of how I felt about The Tunnel, thoug ...more
WARNING: This review contains graphic content. I am not joking. If you are squeamish, please do not read this review!

Years ago, on our way home from Disney World, of all places, my wife and I came on the scene of a wreck on a rural California highway. The accident couldn't have happened but a few minutes before we arrived. The police had not yet made it to the scene, though some good citizens were directing traffic and approaching the victims. It appeared to be a single-vehicle accident. The car
William Frederick Kohler, professor of history, has almost finished his major work: Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany. He postulates that it takes more than one madman. He postulates that it takes more than one madman and one thousand of rabid kindred spirits. It takes more than self-interest. His work remains undone.

William Frederick Kohler, husband and father of two, unloved and unlovable, starts to build a tunnel in his basement. There are metaphorical reasons aplenty to start digging a
Ian Klappenskoff
The Tunnel Conceit

The tunnel is an authorial conceit on the part of William H Gass as well as his protagonist, William F. Kohler.

It's probably best to abandon any preconceptions of what it might mean when you enter either tunnel as a reader.

The metaphorical tunnel doesn't represent an escape route out of anywhere, nor does it represent a method of entry into somewhere else.

Instead, it constitutes a long strange trip or journey through the mind of the first person protagonist.

At this level, the
Nick Craske
William H. Gass's The Tunnel is a paradox. A celebration of literature and an anti-novel.

From a simple narrative idea Gass creates a complicated internal odyssey; both life affirming and despair inducing. A classic David Foster Wallace double bind if you will.

To quote Gass's own description:

William Frederick Kohler "teaches history at a major mid-western university. He has studied in Germany during the thirties, returned with the 1st Army during the invasion as a debriefer, then as a consultant
Justin Evans
Some attempts to explain William Gass:

i) I put him in the same category as Burton, Shakespeare and Joyce. If you disagree now, wait until I'm done, when you'll disagree even more: these four men, extraordinary geniuses in their own way, are the ultimate specialists. None of them have any imagination whatsoever. Their books either lack or steal plot and their ideas are predominantly dull or second-hand. Burton got around this problem by writing a medical treatise. Shakespeare stole almost everyt

Gass's second novel seethes with rage, horror, sorrow, and contempt, yet, paradoxically, is a joy to read simply because his writing is so mellifluous, so inventive, so alive with an intoxicating love for the powers and possibilities of the English language. Indeed, it seems as though words and the talent to arrange/distill/reinvigorate them are the only things keeping Tunnel’s narrator, middle-aged history professor William Kohler, from totally succumbing to the dungeon of despair that his life

Liam Howley
May 24, 2014 Liam Howley rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no-one
Darkness is made of disgraced light, and the deepest fell on the first day, even as the sound of Lu-ci-fer—the first word—faded.

The roof of the bandstand looks like the thorny crown for a nuns corpse.

Meet William Kohler, the founding and sole member of the Party of Disappointed People. A historian, he has completed his magnum opus, a monumental study on Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany, and has but the introduction to write. Instead, from the basement of his home, he digs a tunnel, and tu
David Lentz
Consider that William Gass created this masterpiece over roughly the same time frame it takes to pay off the average mortgage -- 652 pages in 30 years. One has to respect such care in crafting The Tunnel. How many times was this draft edited to create in essence a final draft written at the plodding, prodding pace of 22 pages per annum? Gass took more time crafting The Tunnel than Joyce did Ulysses. And it shows. The syntax is not of this world. His use of metaphor is off the charts in its creat ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
I have now, over the course of a snail's two months, finished what has got to stand as one of the roughest, toughest, meanest books on my shelf. What took me so long? A 671-page novel is nothing to sneeze at, but I'd read longer over shorter periods. So what the hell took me so long? I'll get to that, but let's get to the good stuff first: the Tunnel is a brilliant novel, deserving of five stars on any sort of reasonably objective scale. The prose is out of this world, full of beautifully realiz ...more
William H. Gass’s novel, The Tunnel, stretches the very definition of a novel, it being a vast and introspective interior monologue narrated by one William Frederick Kohler, a history professor at a midwestern university (the plot, if plot there be, consists of Kohler’s digging a secret tunnel out of his basement). Kohler begins his writing intending it to be a brief introduction to his just-completed immense history of the Holocaust, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler’s Germany, but it quickly becom ...more
there are a lot of themes at work in the tunnel that require a sustained drag thru the muck to understand why they're important. the reader will fight with the book because it's utterly unpalatable; the reader will pick it back up because the words are put together pretty, or possibly because a sense of schadenfreude compels him. the reader will slowly realize that his own base tendencies and disappointments, as minute as they seem to be, might just resemble those of the "repugnant" narrator, ho ...more
Lee Foust
The white text box invites me to type in some words in response to William Gass’s The Tunnel and the first ones that rise to the surface are those of Prufrock: “And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?” perhaps that’s because I don’t necessarily feel worthy to the task or perhaps also a bit because the The Tunnel’s narrator, William Frederick Kohler, reminds me of one of Eliot’s “lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows...” Or perhaps the sheer immensity of the thing, to a ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

Gass's notes and instructions, "Designing The Tunnel," regarding typesetting for the novel:

The Tunnel, A Casebook, from Dalkey Archive's Context:
which includes the following:
The Tunnel: A Topical Overview by H. L. Hix
Sentenced to Sentences: Poetry and The Tunnel. by Jonathan Barron
Confronting The Tunnel: History, Authority, Reference. by Melanie Eckford-Prossor
Götterdämmerung in the West: William Gass’s Little Big No
Jesus. Christ. This a nightmare. A gorgeous, linguistically breath-taking masterwork 26 years in the making, but a nightmare none the less. William Frederich Kohler, who might or might not be a proxy for Gass himself, just vomits hate at EVERYTHING. His placid academic life, his miserable midwestern childhood, his straight-out-of-a-hell parents, his feckless colleagues, his wife, his kids, his students, his culture, his age and above all, himself.

And yet the whole thing is told in a crazed first
Nov 22, 2011 Linda rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The serious reader of literature, psychology
Shelves: favorite-author
This was one of my all-time favorite books. In fact I think it puts Homer's Iliad in second place! This in not a book you read by the fire in the evening with soft music in the background. This is a book to study! to be appreciated for it's depth and raw-ness and honesty. Prepare for a symbolic read. Prepare to be confused on page ??? only to be enlighted on page ????, over and over again. This is a book that has more to say in the white spaces than in the inked words, oh so many words, lists, m ...more
Gorgeously disgusting. Alliteration, assonance, consonance, and rhyme are all wielded in the name of bitterness - the fascism of the heart. My initial impression was that the style of The Tunnel approximates a jumbling-up of Omensetter's Luck, as though the difficult, distressed, singsongy (sure, a degraded-and-ing song at that) middle portion of OL were mixed in with the more pleasant prose from other portions. I'll have to reread the O Luck to see if those thoughts really hold court or not. Wi ...more
it's hard to know what to make of this book after one reading, but it is one of the most carefully crafted books i've ever read. i can see why gass refers to it as an anti-novel: it doesn't read like a novel. it reads like something somewhere between the thoughts of a crazed person and a poem that took 26 years to write.

this book beats you down. kohler is not a likable person. there are not a lot of funny things in this book. it is very long (longer than many 900 or 1000 page books!). it is hard
Rodney Welch
Someone gave me this book to review when it first came out, and I took the job quite seriously and with great enthusiasm, as I was already a fan of Gass's "Omensetter's Luck." I spent a long time with it, taking copious notes, giving it my careful attention, and slowly but surely wondering if I was wasting my time. It's about a man who has written a book on Nazi Germany, and is in the process of writing an introduction that turns into his own life story. He is tunneling through his life, so to s ...more
Gass is clearly a phenomenally talented prose stylist, and this prose style dovetails beautifully with his odd typographies and flourishes of concrete experimentation. That said, I wouldn't recommend this to everybody. In fact, it's physically painful to read at times. Our protagonist is one of the most unlikable characters I've ever encountered, and he seeps into your being, nauseating you. 650 pages of him talking at you, one massive, anti-human, vaguely fascist screed. Intensely well-written, ...more
I've read this twice now, and there's just no comparing: this book contains the most musical use of the english language ever written.

there is really no comparison.

any three star review is by someone lacking an ear (truly)
Ryan Clifton
There is absolutely no way in hell this was written by a human being. I find it questionable that even an angel, a muse, or a god could have written something this good. But The Tunnel is all too human. I mean really, truly, disturbingly human. Never before has a novel received a more appropriate title. Gass spends 652 pages (although it looks and feels well over 1000 pages) spelunking through the deepest depths of the human psyche. So many cracks and narrow passages, so many cathedrals, so many ...more
Nach 55 Seiten und geschätzten neunzig Minuten Lesezeit gebe ich hiermit offiziell das Projekt "The Tunnel" auf. Es hat mich in die Knie gezwungen, und ich bin nicht mal wirklich traurig darüber.

"The Tunnel" ist, laut Goodreads, das 1000. Buch das ich bisher gelesen habe - was an sich schon nicht stimmen kann, da ich mich so gut wie gar nicht an die langen Lesenächte meiner Kindheit und frühen Jugend erinnern kann. Da fehlen sicherlich noch einige Hundert Bücher. Nichtsdestotrotz ist dieses Ere
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William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor.

Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cit
More about William H. Gass...
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories Omensetter's Luck On Being Blue Middle C Fiction and the Figures of Life

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“it is discouraging to leave the past behind only to see it coming toward you like the thunderstorm which drenched you yesterday.” 14 likes
“Wild eyes were another sign. It is something I have seldom seen — the expression of an ecstatic state — though much is foolishly written of them, as if they grew like Jerusalem artichokes along the road. The eyes are black, right enough, whatever their normal color is; they are black because their perception is condensed to a coal, because the touch and taste and perfume of the lover, the outcry of a dirty word, a welcome river, have been reduced in the heat of passion to a black ash, and this unburnt residue of oxidation, this calyx, replaces the pupil so it no longer receives but sends, and every hair is on end, though perhaps only outspread on a pillow, and the nostrils are flared, mouth agape, cheeks sucked so the whole face seems as squeezed as a juiced fruit; I know, for once Lou went into that wildness while we were absorbing one another, trying to kiss, not merely forcefully, not the skull of our skeleton, but the skull and all the bones on which the essential self is hung, kiss so the shape of the soul is stirred too, that's what is called the ultimate French, the furtherest fuck, when a cock makes a concept cry out and climax; I know, for more than once, though not often, I shuddered into that other region, when a mouth drew me through its generosity into the realm of unravel, and every sensation lay extended as a lake, every tie was loosed, and the glue of things dissolved. I knew I wore the wild look then. The greatest gift you can give another human being is to let them warm you till, in passing beyond pleasure, your defenses fall, your ego surrenders, its structure melts, its towers topple, lies, fancies, vanities, blow away in no wind, and you return, not to the clay you came from — the unfired vessel — but to the original moment of inspiration, when you were the unabbreviated breath of God.” 5 likes
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