In this dark, unnerving work of wartime fiction, W. F. Hermans exposes humanity’s essential savagery, barely concealed by its mores and morals. The year is 1944, and a Dutch partisan chances on an abandoned estate, where he decides to take refuge during a lull in the hostilities. The house seems untouched by the war, a kind of haven, its ornament and grandeur intact (not to mention its walls), clothes and sheets to spare, a kitchen stocked with food and drink. He settles in, and begins to consider himself the owner. When the Nazis recapture the village and come knocking, they similarly assume the house to be his; they assume, also, its spare rooms, which they outfit as barracks.
It is all and well until the true owner and his wife return to their estate. Horrified at the thought of being caught in his subterfuge, our protagonist finds himself drawn into further deceit—and swept up in the violence that ensues.
Civilization comes face-to-face with brutality, truth meets the duplicity that has upended and challenged its certainty—Hermans’ prose searches for an order to the chaos and nihilism of war, and life. What he cannot find is as telling as what he does uncover.