cover image An Untouched House

An Untouched House

Willem Fredrik Hermans; trans. from the Dutch by David Colmer. Archipelago (PRH, dist.), $16 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-939810-06-9

The cruelty and absurdity of war shapes the events of Hermans’s devastating novella, first published in Dutch in 1951. Set in an unspecified locale toward the end of WWII, it is narrated by an unnamed spy, fighting with the Allies, who chances upon an abandoned house not yet ravaged by battle. Settling into it as though it were his own, he contends over several days with billeting Nazi soldiers, the surprise arrival of the house’s true owners, and an eccentric resident in one of its mysteriously locked rooms. “Imagine somebody who doesn’t have a memory, who can’t think of anything beyond what he sees, hears and feels,” he says. Extending these thoughts, he relates the horrors that inevitably engulf the house methodically and dispassionately. Hermans (Beyond Sleep) 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. (Oct.)