the ledge files
the ledge - nl - uk
De donkere kamer van Damokles
Willem Frederik Hermans
publisher: Van Oorschot, 1958

translated as:
The Dark Room of Damokles
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1962
translation: Roy Edwards

refered to by:
The Castle
Franz Kafka

City of Glass
Paul Auster

full text search:

the ledge - flash version*


This novel is one of the undisputed masterpieces to have emerged from the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. It is a tour de force of taut, suspenseful story-telling, which in the book’s final section is radically undermined when the version of events the reader has been given up to that point is questioned and proves impossible to substantiate.
The protagonist of The Dark Room of Damocles, the tobacconist Osewoudt, who has settled into a humdrum suburban existence and an unhappy marriage with an older cousin, sees the glamour and excitement of war passing him by. All this changes when the mysterious figure of Dorbeck appears in his life and enlists his help in undercover operations, including assassination. The action, adventure and romance he had longed for are suddenly his, thanks to Dorbeck, who oddly enough is the spitting image of his protégé, except that he is dark and manly, with a voice ‘like a bronze bell’, whereas Osewoudt is fair and underdeveloped. The resemblance is that of a photo and its negative.
Holland is liberated Osewoudt expects his exploits to be acknowledged but instead finds himself denounced as a traitor. His strenuous attempts to prove the existence of his ‘controller’ founder on the absence of witnesses and on the fact that the film containing the one photograph he took of Dorbeck has been exposed. Imprisoned in an internment camp, he is further demoralised by an encounter with a fellow-inmate, a cynical S.S. man. In despair he makes a dash for the barbed wire and is shot down.
The novel’s import extends beyond the particularities of an individual’s fate at a certain historical moment. Its chilling thesis — greatly influenced by the linguistic scepticism of the philosopher Wittgenstein — is that the world is ultimately chaotic and unknowable and that our conflicting versions of it are equally arbitrary and inadequate.
John le Carré has expressed his admiration for Hermans’ book, which has been filmed by the Oscar-winning director Fons Rademakers.



Beyond Sleep
A gripping tale of a man approaching breaking point set beyond the end of the civilised world: a modern classic of European literature.

Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
Multatuli, 1860
Sending shockwaves through the Dutch nation when it was published in 1860, this damning expose of the terrible conditions in the colonies led to welfare reforms in Java and continues to inspire the fairtrade movement today.

The Trial
Franz Kafka, 1925P
'posthumous work'
The tale of Joseph K, a respectable functionary in a bank, who is suddenly arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information. A nightmare vision of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the mad agendas of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes.

The Castle
Franz Kafka, 1926P
'published posthumously'
The story of K., the unwanted Land Surveyor who is never admitted to the Castle nor accepted in the village, and yet cannot go home, seems to depict like a dream from the deepest recesses of consciousness, an inexplicable truth about the nature of existence.

Journey to the End of the Night
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1932
The picaresque adventures of Bardamu move from the battlefields of World War I (complete with buffoonish officers and cowardly soldiers), to French West Africa, the United States, and back to France in a style of prose that's lyrical, hallucinatory, and hilariously scathing toward nearly everybody and everything. Yet, beneath it all one can detect a gentle core of idealism.

[Fantastische vertellingen]
F. Bordewijk, 1919 / 1923 / 1924
The fantastic, yet oddly realistic stories by F. Bordewijk, with whose compact style Hermans felt a great affinity.

André Breton, 1928
Nadja, André Breton’s most frankly autobiographical book, is the quintessential Surrealist romance.

Paris Peasant
Louis Aragon, 1926
Paris Peasant is, in the author’s words, 'a mythology of the modern'. The book uses the city of Paris as a framework, and Aragon interlaces his text with the city’s ephemera: café menus, maps, inscriptions on monuments, newspaper clippings, as well as the lives of its citizens.

Tractatus logico-philosophicus
Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1922
'Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus[/] was meant to put an end to philosophy. As it turned out, it didn't, because he continued to write later on in life, although after reading it, most of his contemporaries had to keep silent for a bit.'

- a reader,

The Dark Room of Damokles
"WWII novels"
Nihilistic novel about a weakling drawn into the Resistance by his (stronger) doppelgänger - or was it just his imagination?

[De ondergang van de familie Boslowits]
Gerard Reve, 1950
Persecution of the Jews in Amsterdam, seen through the eyes of a young boy.

[Pastorale 1943]
S. Vestdijk, 1948

[Kort Amerikaans]
Jan Wolkers, 1962

Breaking Point
Jacques (eigenlijk: Jacob) Presser, 1957
This novel tells of Westerbork, the transit camp from which Dutch Jews were despatched to Auschwitz. At the heart of the camp system was the desperate competition among victims to buy an extra day's survival at the expense of another's death.

Dangling Man
Saul Bellow, 1944
Take a man waiting - waiting between the two worlds of civilian life and the army, suspended between two identities - and you have a man who, perhaps for the first time in his life, is really free. However, freedom can be a noose around a man's neck.

The Fall
Albert Camus, 1956
Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a successful Parisian barrister, has come to recognize the deep-seated hypocrisy of his existence. His epigrammatic and, above all, discomforting monologue gradually saps, then undermines, the reader' s own complacency.

One, no one, and one hundred thousand
Luigi Pirandello, 1926
Vitangelo Moscarda 'loses his reality' when his wife cavalierly informs him that his nose tilts to the right.

The New York Trilogy
Paul Auster, 1985-1986 (published together in 1990)
Three stories on the nature of identity. In the first a detective writer is drawn into a curious and baffling investigation, in the second a man is set up in an apartment to spy on someone, and the third concerns the disappearance of a man whose childhood friend is left as his literary executor.

Jude the Obscure
Thomas Hardy, 1895
Hardy called Jude the Obscure 'a deadly war waged between flesh and spirit'.

Michael Kohlhaas
Heinrich von Kleist, 1804
A law-abiding horse trader launches a campaign of violence against the nobleman Wenzel von Tronka following the illegal confiscation of his horses.

The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane, 1895
The glory, pride, horror, and cowardice that are associated with war are depicted in a classic account of a young soldier's Civil War experiences.

[De tranen der acacia's]

The House of Refuge
Dutch partisan misbehaves in unoccupied villa.
[Herinneringen van een engelbewaarder]

[Ik heb altijd gelijk]
A veteran of the colonial war in Indonesia vents his anger.
[Onder professoren]
Backstabbing and social disaster after a chemistry professor wins the Noble Prize.
[Een heilige van de horlogerie]

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