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The Darkroom of Damocles

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  8,522 ratings  ·  306 reviews
During the German occupation of Holland, tobacconist Henri Osewoudt is visited by Dorbeck. Dorbeck is Osewoudt's spitting image in reverse. Henri is blond and beardless, with a high voice; Dorbeck is dark-haired, and his voice deep.

Dorbeck gives Osewoudt a series of dangerous assignments: helping British agents and eliminating traitors. But the assassinations get out of ha
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Harry N. Abrams (first published November 1958)
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Glenn Russell
Mar 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“Wat is een held? Iemand die straffeloos onvoorzichtig is geweest.”
― Willem Frederik Hermans, De donkere kamer van Damokles

Can you read the above quote? Most people can't since it is written in Dutch. One big reason William Fredrick Hermans (1921-1925) isn't a well know as other authors of his generation, say, Heinrich Böll, William Trevor or Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Willem Frederik Hermans's novel of intrigue and espionage is told not in first person narrative but has the quality of first person n
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dutch-flemish
Surface All the Way Through

After reading the first 20 pages or so of Hermans's Darkroom of Damocles, I began to suspect a problem with the English translation. The text is spare to the point of aridity with hardly any description of people or places. Similarly, there is no psychological commentary; motives, reflections, emotions are unstated. Dialogue is presented more like a punching match than a conversation. Sentences are terse; paragraphs are short. Transitions are unexpected and somewhat di
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The discovery of the self and our potential is a hard journey especially when a psychological feeling of ineptness resides so deeply within. While we have our teachers and competitors to thank for such realisations, our protagonist lil ol Henri is not quite so fortunate.
Through a lone serendipitous event, like dominos set in motion to befall one another, he "becomes a new man" after taking a series of instructions, blindly I'd say, to test his mettle and thus so proving himself to be no less th
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: passed-on
I must confess that I expected The Darkroom of Damocles to be a dark and difficult book. The title, the description of the author as “one of the most important Western European authors to emerge from the postwar period”, and that oh so dark cover all suggested that to me.

But I was wrong. This is a terribly readable book, simply, clearly and very well written, and it is very easy to keep turning the pages to see what happens. It’s almost a case of serious literary meets gripping thriller. And I
Milan Kundera offers a compound blurb for The Darkroom of Damocles; "I read it in a single sitting" and "a thriller during which the suspense never flags." While I agree with the first sentiment -- I read the final 270 pages in an evening -- the second claim is more elusive. Detailing the occupation/resistance dynamic in the Netherlands during WW II, W.F. Hermans unleashes a nightmare where his unsettling protagonist Osewoundt (O) takes up arms against the Germans and finds more than traces of e ...more
A possibly great book which unfortunately let itself get a little flabby and out of shape. I found that, after a few hundred pages, I simply stopped caring...It is written in a plain, airport thriller prose style so I was unable even to submerge myself in its language. An interesting concept, and worth a read, but I was unable to get excited about it and was (to be honest) rather glad when I had finished.
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A sheer nihilism,yet paradoxically spontaneous one. It Sounds to be narrated in praise of nothingness .Anyway ,when one's life turned to be irredeamble ,and no hope flickering in the distance ,what should one adheres to ? When life is no longer wants us to be in it ?This is the story of how the war can reduce everything we have , possess or believe in to an absolute null.

Considering Hermans's novel as a pessimistic one , would not be accurate,, I found him to be a realistic writer who just conve
For many this is the masterpiece of W.F. Hermans, one of the greatest Dutch writers of the 20th Century. This probably is due to the ambiguous attitude of "resistance hero and/or willy-nilly collaborator" Osewoudt, the main character. He's a weak man that gets inspired by his more heroic alter ego Dorbeck, and becomes a killing machine. Hermans himself wasn't very pleased with this book, and I think he was not entirely wrong. It's not really high quality literature and the story often seems to g ...more
I did not think I would like as much as I did. I wasn't very impressed by Nooit Meer Slapen, which is also by Hermans. This novel, however, was very interesting, and had a good pace. His style neither appealed to me nor did it put me off; it was quite factual. I like how it is at first quite a simple war story, but when I realised that Osewoudt might not be a reliable narrator, I started questioning things that happened before in the novel. Simply a good book. +1 for Dutch literature.
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dutch, 2016
this book is fucked up in all sorts of ways
May 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dutch
One of the best Dutch writers in history. Bizare, fascinating story. Had to read it for my Dutch literature list at high school, but I liked it. Great Dutch literary book. Also for this one, have to reread it soon, it's in my bookcase!
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed reading this Dutch literary classic again. Read the book in high-school but mostly forgot the storyline. To me, the book was a real page-turner as it reads like a boys adventure novel but while progressing you start noticing deeper motives and multiple layers.
The book takes place in and around World War II in the Netherlands and describes the story of a simple cigar shop owner that never did much with his life. Married to his seven-year older full niece and never being able to gr
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, dutch, bookclub
Main character Osewoudt seems to go through life in a plastic bubble: nothing really touches him. Interesting theme about truth and perception. Also interesting view about ww2 in the netherlands, mainly about the role of the resistance. i can imagine this book being revolutionairy in it's time. But it's Also very flat concerning character development.
Slávek Rydval
Mar 03, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Slávek by: Milan Kundera
This a slightly clichéd existential novel with thriller elements is more and more interesting with every page you read. Unfortunately, the end is completely botched.
Kelly de Ruiter
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book in dutch literature. Perfection.
Sep 20, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
No <3 ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anthony Ferner
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dutch-fiction
Set during the German occupation of the Netherlands in the second world war, De donkere kamer van Damokles (The Darkroom of Damocles) follows the life of Henrik Osewoudt. Osewoudt is a bit of a nonentity: slight of build, beardless, and with a high, feminine voice, he has few aspirations beyond running the family cigar shop with his older wife who is also his first cousin, and looking after his mother who in a bout of insanity has killed her husband, Henrik's father. Everything changes when the ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Dutch teacher in high school would probably have a fit about the fact that I read this Dutch “literary masterpiece” (maybe not his exact words, but close) in English. And he’s welcome to it – I did not like him and believe that feeling was mutual. I did compare some bits to the original, and as far as I can tell, it was an excellent translation, respecting the spirit of the original.

Overall I have to conclude that I am glad that I read The Darkroom of Damocles, but it did have some issues for
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2, favourites
The first half is one of the best spy thrillers I've ever read. Osewoudt, a young tobacconist, gets involved in the Dutch Resistance and goes on one harrowing mission after another, culminating in an assassination attempt that involves a co-conspirator drawing out a collaborator's child while dressed as a Nazi Youth.

The second half is an existential nightmare. Osewoudt's secrecy during the war makes it impossible to prove who he is to the victorious Allies. The upheaval causes witnesses to disap
Apr 16, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The story of Henri, a tobacconist in Holland during the German occupation and subsequent WWII, is dangerous and a bit confusing. He meets Dorbeck, who gives him missions to accomplish to aid the anti-German allies. Henri is only too happy to complete these assignments, being rejected from the army. Strangely, he and Dorbeck look nearly identical, the only exception being their hair color. Henri is captured by various factions and his identity is questioned repeatedly, though no one can locate th ...more
Kiki van Dijk
3/5 stars
It took me a while to read this book! Did I enjoy it? It was actually a book I chose to read for school. With having no idea what I was going to expect wasn't a great start. When I finished it, I still had no idea where the book was about. Now I know. The main question of the book is: Who is Dorbeck? Was he a real person or was he made up?
I think Henri wanted to be another person, so he made someone up that was PERFECT. And that person was Dorbeck.

2/5 sterren
Ik heb nog steeds e
Sep 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reads like a dream of the main character - one dangerous situation leads to the next, murders are committed, but the main character does not at any point reflect on what he is doing, or why. Surely when you start killing for the resistance, you're going to have some sort of thoughts or feelings about this? Not this guy.

In that sense, the ending of the book is not surprising, and in fact it explains quite a lot about why this book is the way it is. It's just a shame I had to plod throug
Mar 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here's another text I never previously read because of all the hype. If I'd read this back when I was 14 years old, it might've blown my mind.

This postmodern text is a (somewhat deceptively) easy, enjoyable read from which you can get more fun (if you're so inclined) by comparing discrepancies within the narrative in the final section with what allegedly occurred earlier in the text.

(view spoiler)
Nov 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book before, lots of years ago and as I remembered it, it was one of the best books ever. But now, after re-reading it so many years later, I was kind of disappointed. Sure, the story itself if more then ok; it's a kind of layered story and in the end you still don't know what to think of the main character. Was he a good guy, was he a bad guy, maybe someone who just made wrong decisions... I really don't know and that is the strength of the book I think. It's written in a style ...more
Mark Groenen
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finished 'De donkere kamer van Damokles' (The Darkroom of Damocles) by Willem Frederik Hermans

It took me a while to like this novel. It starts out as a pretty generic Second World War story in the Netherlands, and I absolutely do not care for these fictional stories (yes, being a history teacher I realise I might be committing herecy here). Eventually though, the surreal starts creeping in. The main character starts experiencing black-outs and other things start to lose their reality.

The end of
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it was this book, or maybe it's just translations in general, but this felt not quite right.

I picked up this book because I wanted to get into Dutch literature to better understand Dutch culture, an ongoing fascination I have had since reading A Thousand Autumns. And this did not disappoint. There is a smallness and a quaintness to the Netherlands of this book: the country is seemingly traversed by train very quickly, and everyone seems to know everyone.

On second thought, this was just a
edit 2017/08/13:
2.5 stars. last time around i only got to about page 170 (3/5th of the book), this time i read the second half as well which is SO much better and more interesting than the first half. still, the main character sucks so yea, def not my fave.

orig. review:
1.5 stars.
i had to drag myself through this book; the only theme that was even remotely interesting was the question of dorbeck's existence. couldnt care less about the characters and if i didnt have to read it for school i would
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Willem Frederik Hermans is one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors. Before devoting his entire life to writing, Hermans had been teaching Physical Geography at the University of Groningen for many years. He had already started writing and publishing in magazines at a young age. His polemic and provocative style led to a court case as early as 1952. His caustic pieces were compiled in Mandarijne ...more

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“Wat is een held? Iemand die straffeloos onvoorzichtig is geweest.” 10 likes
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