The Darkroom of Damocles by W.F. Hermans

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The Darkroom Of Damocles Translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke

Five words from the blurb: occupation, Holland, assassinations, traitors, impossibility

The Darkroom of Damocles is set in Holland during WWII. It centres on Henri, a young man who is approached and asked to perform a series of assignments. These become increasingly dangerous, but his loyalty to the British is unwavering and he puts his job above relationships with his own family. Henri only starts to question his actions when the war ends and he begins to discover the truth behind the secrets of war. This leads the reader to question whether there can ever be a “right” side to take in a conflict situation. 

This book was very readable. Much of it felt like a fast-paced spy novel, but as it progressed it was increasingly possible to see the depth and complex moral issues that the author was trying to address. 

Unfortunately I felt the book was too long for its plot. There were several sections in the middle where I lost interest and I wish that some of these had been edited out. I’m not normally a fan of spy novels so I think this probably contributed to my boredom as after a while one chase scene seemed very much like the next:

Osewoudt turned round, the pistol in his trembling fist almost level with his eyes. He positioned himself with one foot forward while keeping watch on the door to the kitchen, which was slightly ajar. He couldn’t see into the kitchen because the door was at right angles to the passage. He should have left it open, he now realised. He listened intently, but could hear only the muffled sound of Lagendaal’s footsteps approaching.

Luckily the ending made up for some of excessive middle section. I was impressed by the way everything came together, but I was hoping for a greater emotional impact than I found.

I’m pleased I’ve read this Dutch classic, but I wish it had been half the length.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Though The Darkroom of Damocles is full of action, it was the parts where nothing was happening that I liked best. The Asylum

The action is thrilling, the detail grounded and real, the prose (and the exceptional translation) deceptively simple and fluid. Lizzy’s Literary Life

It’s a book to make you think, and go on thinking for some time after you’ve put it down. Fleur in her World


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  1. I do love reading other countries’ classics! But yeah, I struggle with spy novels too, even when they are tight as a drum. I get anxious easily and then bored easily, if the stakes are at the same level throughout.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Yes, this book actually did quite well as I normally abandon spy novels quite quickly! It is always good to know which books other countries love though :-)

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