1950s Books in Translation Thriller

The Darkroom of Damocles by W.F. Hermans

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


2010 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Twin – Gerbrand Bakker

The Twin Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

Winner of 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Five words from the blurb: remote, Dutch, twin, death, choices

The Twin is a quiet, tender story about one man learning to cope with the loss of his twin brother. Helmer lives on a remote Dutch farm with his dying father. He never wanted to be a farmer, but the death of his twin forced him to return to the family home. Helmer’s isolated existence is brought to an end by the sudden arrival of his twin’s fiancee.

Very little actually happens in this book, but I was captivated its emotional intensity. I quickly felt that I understood Helmer and his frustration at the way his life had unfolded. 

‘You never said anything,’ Father says. ‘You never said you didn’t want to.’

‘You didn’t have much choice.’ I walk back to the window and follow the line of the dyke until I can see the lighthouse again.


The writing was simple, but allowed subtle emotion to bubble through to the surface of every page.

From the description you’d expect this to be a depressing book, but while there were a few sad moments, I found that the tone always lifted before I had a chance to shed a tear.

This book won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a book that investigates the inevitability of life then this is the perfect choice.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

As painful as it is, it’s a wonderous experience to dwell with them for a time. The Mookse and the Gripes

This simple book surprised me. I will read it again. Page247

The scenery is wonderfully described you get the feeling of isolation and strangeness of platteland… Winstonsdad’s Blog

2010 2011 Books in Translation Chick Lit Mystery

Rendezvous – Esther Verhoef

Rendezvous Translated from the Dutch by Alexander Smith

Five words from the blurb: mother, life, unravels, tension, twists

Iris is holding A Month of Dutch Literature on her blog. I wanted to join in, but had nothing to hand. I then spotted this book in a little independent book shop and was drawn towards the following sentence in the blurb:

Rendezvous is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish and an extremely powerful story about how dangerous getting what you want can be.

That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a gripping read with some degree of emotional tension throughout.

The book begins with Simone, a young mother, being arrested. Over the course of the book we see how she goes from being a caring wife and mother, to being at risk of losing everything.

Simone and her family move from Holland to a rural village in the south of France. They have to cope with living in the confines of a caravan whilst their house is being renovated, but also learn the numerous differences between their culture and French etiquette.

Simone’s character is very well developed and I had a great deal of sympathy for her, despite her flaws.

Unbelievable how I was able to lie to everyone, how naturally and easily it came to me. All my life I’ve hated that so intensely, that scheming, lying and deceit. Women who cheat on their husbands with their best friends, men who say they have to work late and are actually carrying on with their secretaries – there’s a reason those kinds of clichés are clichés; they’re far too commonplace, they seem to make the world go round.

This book could almost be described as chick-lit, but the mystery surrounding Simone’s imprisonment also gives it a crime/thriller edge.

I found the entire book to be very entertaining. It isn’t groundbreaking or particularly original, but it is perfect for when you need to read something a bit lighter.