An Untouched House


Translated from by

Published: October 23rd





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Book Description

Madness abounds in the waning months of World War II, until a weary Dutch Partisan chances upon a luxurious, intact estate in an abandoned spa town. For a time, clean linens and running water replace unremitting bloodshed as the defining features of the nameless narrator’s life; then the Germans retake the village. When they reach his new front door, the Partisan quickly accepts that he must resort to any means to keep the war out. With blunt yet transfixing prose, Hermans confronts his readers with the violent absurdity of war.

The front lines may be the peak of insanity, blossoms of concussive explosions flowing from the whining stem of the shell’s path, but one shucked soldier finds some time to play house behind the lines, fending off billeted officers and aggrieved owners, dreaming that this bubble of calm will remain after the war finally passes. But he finds that you can’t hide from war if you carry it inside you.
Paul Theriault, Brookline Booksmith

Hermans is an old fave. This one is like Simenon distilled down to his nastiest essential salts. More, please.
Jeremy Davies

Although An Untouched House is brief, it is worth pacing oneself and absorbing its remarkable density. Hermans is the architect of a masterful story – concise but expansive in vision . . . a lucid, exhilarating account.
Peyton Harvey, Zyzzyva

It is a novel of desperate survival. But the sensation it transmits is not desperation; rather, the entirety of it, even the horrific scenes of death and torture, feels like a nightmarish dream through which both the reader and the characters wander, without much choice and absolved of all morality . . . It is perhaps this very immediacy, the apparent inexistence of anything beyond the present moment, which makes Hermans’s novella not only bearable, but utterly immersive.

Juan E. Suarez, Meridian

Those who do simply open and read will find themselves immersed in a nightmare miniature where philosophical musing gives seamless way to beautiful but unyielding cruelty . . . this newer translation by David Colmer seems to better capture the unsettling horror.
Ben Murphy, Full Stop

The most unsettling book I’ve read this year, An Untouched House proves the horror and inhumanity of the twentieth century just that: unsettled. Hermans’ pithy masterpiece is a warning.

Hal Hlavinka

Hermans’s novella is a bleak depiction of the absurdity of war, which knows no winners.

Felix Haas, World Literature Today

The sparse but precise prose captures a sense of desolation, a meaninglessness at the heart of the war . . . The line between war and culture, violence and peace, is indistinct, an illusion ultimately incapable of concealing the interdependence of the two, and the artificiality of our loyalty to either.
Sara Ramey, The Arkansas International

This novella is a fascinating portrait of a solipsistic mind, a scrupulous rendering of the erosion of human empathy that resonates in these uncivil times.

Christopher Byrd, Vulture

As disturbing and powerful as anything by Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut.
Michael Faber, The Guardian

Underrated: the Dutch writer Willem Frederik Hermans, especially his novel ​​An Untouched House.​
Ian McEwan, The Times Literary Supplement

This is a brutal story that’s all the more shocking because it packs its ferocious series of punches into just 80 pages. It takes an hour or two to read, but An Untouched House is the kind of book that stays with you for ever.

Sam Jordison, The Guardian

From the opening pages, the translator David Colmer brilliantly evokes the laconic tone of a narrator who proves intelligent, resourceful and increasingly deranged . . . By any light, this eloquent marvel teases, bewilders, and unnerves.

Eileen Battersby, The Times Literary Supplement

​[A] slim but potent war story​ . . . Hermans doesn’t deliver an explicit moral judgement on the narrator (indeed, he’s sweetly reasonable throughout), but the thundering violence of the closing pages sends its own message. Fire, a suicide attempt, torture, and hanging are all shadowed by men killing with a cynical, mocking cruelty, stressing Hermans’ point that dreams of peace can easily become entangled in violence. A dark wartime vision that evokes Koestler, Orwell, and Vonnegut.

Kirkus Reviews, starred

An Untouched House is a small but unforgettable story about the schizophrenia of war. W.F. Hermans’s writing is implacably precise, always searching for truth, evocative but austere, and thoroughly addictive. Reader be warned: after An Untouched House you will want to read everything this great European author wrote!

Peter Terrin

Profoundly unsettling and haunt the mind for long afterwards

Sunday Times, Books of the Year

Crackling with uneasy tension . . . A beautiful new edition of a powerful and timeless, slim Dutch masterpiece, written in a spare and crisp style that brings to mind Camus

The Lady

By any light, this eloquent marvel teases, bewilders and unnerves

Times Literary Supplement

A shocking Dutch classic . . . remarkable . . . It takes an hour or two to read, but An Untouched House is the kind of book that stays with you for ever

The Guardian

A violent apotheosis without equal in modern literature. A sadistic universe that offers no room for escape.

Cees Nooteboom

In An Untouched House, a disillusioned WWII partisan soldier deserts and finds an abandoned house where he decides to stay. What unfolds is a strange and taut psychological tale of how individuals might choose to ignore the horrors of the outside world until they inevitably come crashing down around them. Ending in an explosion of violence that illuminates the true savagery of the human heart, this little stick of dynamite is less than 100 pages and damn near perfect.

Keaton Patterson, Brazos Bookstore

An Untouched House is a pitch-black thriller of war-time existence – one can hardly simply call it ’life’ – at its extremes . . . With a nicely turned resolution, An Untouched House is no redemptive war tale, just a stark vision of what it does to man. The experiences here are raw, fundamental, visceral . . . it’s an expertly crafted story that is very well told. A small novel that packs a strong, hard punch.
M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

Hermans is one of Holland’s great 20th-century writers, yet little of his work has been translated . . . Comparisons with Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut and even Kafka are not unreasonable, but Hermans has his own strong flavour. An Untouched House is shocking, and the seeming collapse of moral consequence is properly unsettling. It would certainly be good to have a lot more of Hermans’s work available here.

David Mills, The Times

Unsurpassed in its stylistic precision, unsettling in its language, dialogue, atmosphere, humour.

Harry Mulisch

[Hermans] granted me a silence in which I could hear this novel’s voice in all its purity, in all the beauty of the unexplained and the unknown.

Milan Kundera

Bleak, hilarious, angry, ruthless . . . Hermans is as alarming as a snake in the breadbin . . . hugely entertaining.

The Scotsman

A spare, taut war thriller sprinkled with doses of absurd comedy that considerably heighten its narrative power. … At less than 100 pages,  An Untouched House  pulses and throbs with dramatic tension in which, Hermans, in his unique way, confronts us with the idea of the violent absurdity of war and its terrible consequences for those unwittingly involved.
Radhika Pandit, Radhika's Reading Retreat

A literary tour de force.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The protagonist of this book has the most existential way of being in the world, being in the war, being under fire, and seeking refuge from the war . . . It is a wonderful book. It is absurdist, it's obscenely violent, and one of the best pieces of fiction I read about World War II in years

Shawn The Book Maniac

What’s most interesting, and what connects this novel with [Hermans's] others set in wartime—A Guardian Angel Recalls and The Darkroom of Damocles—are questions of identity, authenticity, and duplicity. As these novels chart the ways in which warfare can deform and degrade us, they measure the gap between their characters’ true inner selves and the false identities they assume: the roles they play and the lies they tell. And all three books monitor the terrifying ease with which that gap can narrow.
Francine Prose, Harper's

Watch this interview of W.F. Hermans, in Dutch.

Browse the Willem Frederik Hermans instituut page, and read a short biography of Hermans, in Dutch, here.

From The American Reader, read Jan Steyn’s “A Conversation with Translator David Colmer.”

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