Posts Tagged ‘Willem Frederik Hermans’

‘An Untouched House’ by Willem Frederik Hermans – A Very Short Respite from War


‘An Untouched House’ by Willem Frederik Hermans (1951) – 88 pages          Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer


In an ‘Untouched House’, World War II is raging toward its end, and the fighting for an unnamed Dutch partisan soldier is intense along the border of The Netherlands and Germany.

A German emerged and ran for the road. I shot him. A second, as well. A third. A fourth. They bent forward like butterflies being mounted. I stabbed them to death with a pin six hundred feet long. I didn’t manage to hit the fifth before he jumped into the river. I clicked a new magazine into my rifle and by the time I’d emptied it, I was certain the German’s head was no longer visible above water.”

The partisans push into German territory. They wind up in a town that looks to have been a luxury resort town of spas. Our soldier wanders off by himself into one nice rather large house which appears to so far have been untouched by the war. There is nobody there except for two dogs who ignore him. He looks through the belongings of the German man and woman who lived in the house, sees their grand piano.

In their bathroom, there is a large bathtub. Our soldier turns on the hot water tap and finds the water to be nice and hot. He takes his clothes off and takes a long bath and washes away the detritus of months of fighting.

He settles in to the house. But soon the German owners, husband and wife, show up.

The world is once again involved in a violent war confrontation which could well lead to World War III. ‘An Untouched House’ is a vivid reminder of the violent savagery that is unleashed by war. In his Afterword to this novella, the writer Cees Nooteboom perhaps expresses it best when he speaks of “the bungling, the pointless fumbling in what he (Willem Frederik Hermans) called a sadistic universe, the chaos in which human lives are played out when the semblance of order called civilization has been breached.”

Will the humans be able to save themselves from their own innate brutal savagery this time?


Grade:    A




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