Willem Frederik Hermans - Beyond Sleep
Beyond Sleep is the oppressive story, told with consummate skill, of young geologist Alfred Issendorf. Like all scientists, he dreams of fame and immortality. Along with a young geologist called Arne and two assistants, he sets off for the North Cape on a research trip, intending to prove that the region’s lakes were created by meteorites.
His ambition quickly overtakes his sense of reality, however, and the journey across the wide open landscape of Finnmark becomes increasingly hellish. Alfred finds walking through the boggy, hilly landscape with a heavy rucksack on his back extremely hard going. He can’t even keep up with the others. The midnight sun makes sleep impossible and mosquitoes torment him all day, flying into his mouth whenever he attempts to speak. The expedition ends in tragedy. First the two assistants leave, then Alfred becomes convinced they should take a different route and casually abandons Arne. When he realizes his mistake and returns, he finds Arne dead.
Beyond Sleep is an ingeniously structured novel in which Hermans uses bitter ridicule to dismantle all faith in progress. His dark pessimism is not fatalistic, however, but rather a deeply personal and razor-sharp analysis of human limitations.
Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995) is one of the greatest of post-war Dutch authors. In his novels and stories Hermans places his characters in worlds where they experience certainty but which for the reader are equivocal. It is this tension that creates the intrigue in Acacia’s Tears (1949) and The Dark Room of Damocles (1958). Although stories such as Malice and Misunderstanding and Paranoia tend towards the surreal, Hermans’ novels The Dark Room of Damocles (1958), Sleep No More (1966) and From Countless Millions (1981), are more realistic and satirical, and everything in his rich oeuvre is subordinated to the author’s pessimistic philosophy.
- ‘A timeless philosophical treatise on the absurdity of human striving and scientific interpretation.’ - Die Tageszeitung