by Willem Frederik Hermans
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There’s a cold moment when you open a book that an entire nation officially loves. It can’t be quite that good, you think. It might say all too much about the country that loves it—in this case, Holland. Besides, when a book is approved as safe in so many schoolrooms, how can it possibly still be alive? And why doesn’t the rest of the world know about it already?
So the first thing to say about Willem Frederik Hermans’s Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep) is that forty-one years of being lodged in the Dutch canon have done it no harm at all; it’s as bright and black as anything contemporary. It has the energy and ruthlessness of farce and a terrifying deadpan style, and it ends in appalling catastrophe. What’s more, it is entirely unfamiliar.
Hermans puts us in the mind of Alfred Issendorf, a mother-ridden Dutch
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