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The Tunnel [Paperback]

William H. Gass
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 11 1996
While writing the introduction to his magnum opus, a moral history of Hitler's Germany, a middle-aged historian finds himself writing instead a history of himself and secretly digging a tunnel out of his own basement. Reprint. NYT.

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A strange and monumental novel that took William Gass three decades to write. When a Midwestern historian sits down to write the introduction to his magnum opus study of the Third Reich, he instead writes a chaotic, obscure and labrynthine exploration of his personal history. Then he begins digging a tunnel from the basement of his house. The writing, the digging, and the reader's reading blend into one profound meditation on history, evil, the living and the dead. PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist.

From Publishers Weekly

This long-awaited magnum opus by the dean of American prose modernists, 30 years in the making, is a terrible disappointment. In this endless ramble of a novel, Gass (Omensetter's Luck; In the Heart of the Heart of the Country), though here, as always, possessed of a bewitching and spectacularly fluid and allusive style, fails to find a suitable home for his narrator's wickedly dyspeptic views of history, marriage and culture. William Kohler is a Midwestern academic historian working on an introduction to his life's work-a massive study of "guilt and innocence in Hitler's Germany." This, however, and the fact that Kohler begins to secretly dig a tunnel out of his basement, are the only shards of plot in this otherwise formless book. Gass, as readers of his fiction and gorgeous literary essays will know (On Being Blue), can turn a phrase and render lyrical descriptions that have not only music to them, but also shape and weight. But in portraying the failed career and life of Kohler, these gifts are brought to bear on such a litany of sour rant-about his aging body, his wife's widening girth, the fatuous enthusiasms of his colleagues and mentors-that the reader will beg for a way out of this dark and airless space. Unfortunately, there is no light at the end of The Tunnel, and the promise of a new perspective on our century's most heinous crime-the Holocaust-is very much a forgotten vow.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone. Certainly not for me. April 30 2004
If I were to tell the protagonist from The Tunnel that I had issues with his book, he'd probably just wave me sideways towards the Party for Disappointed People. Get in line, he'd sigh. Life is disappointing.
I liked the conceit of the Party for Disappointed People. I liked many of the one liners. I admired Gass' writing ability. Mostly I admired the project even if I confess that I couldn't like the book.
652 pages of dense (often unreadable) prose with a grotty poorly-endowed main character who has affairs with his students, kills his wife's cat and generally feels sorry for himself. Whoosh. It took me weeks to read, and *nothing* takes me weeks to read. I genuinely tried to follow everything in the book, but I have to confess that my grasp of his German experiences is spotty and I never really got Susu. The clearest and most readable bit was the bitchy backbiting about his colleagues in the department where he teaches. That was at least funny.
Generally, I felt like it tried way too hard to be a huge sprawling classic. I agreed with much of what it said about history and how you approach it-- again, the project is what I admired. Maybe I just couldn't feel too much for a book that seems to reject any ability to feel joy or to be anything except disappointed. I mean I *love* Beckett, but Gass isn't Beckett and I never got the feeling that he earned all that bitterness. Kohler isn't sympathetic either as a hero or as an anti-hero and while I guess that's part of the point, I didn't find that I admired the point.
Maybe I'm just not literary enough. Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky. Anything is possible. Read it yourself and see.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Party of the Disappointed Reader Sept. 28 1999
Somewhere in the early part of this literary octopus, the narrator considers the difficulty of reading. "There are Muses for the several sorts of writing," he says, "but none for any kind of reading. Wouldn't one need divine aid to get through The Making of Americans, Ivanhoe, Moll Flanders or Grace Abounding?
Or this one. This novel, 30 years in the making, is a most bewildering ream of paper: a sprawling mental maze with enough font styles, shifting text margins, bleak sex and all-round aesthetic malarkey to strain the commitment of the most devoted reader.
Here's what I made of it. The narrator, a German History professor named William Frederick Kohler, has just completed a new book about the Third Reich, Guilt & Innocence in Germany. The book we are reading is an introduction which has taken on a life of its own: a self-berating monologue about Kohler's guilt - his dysfunctional family, his cheerless sex life, and his murky role in Nazi Germany. Kohler, we learn, both served and betrayed the Third Reich, creating a permanent rupture in his consciousness. This leads to the usual Banality of Evil questions: Was the Holocaust an aberration of mankind or perfectly in keeping with it? Is evil our natural state? Is there, to boil things down, any hope? Kohler thinks not. He imagines himself as the head of his own political alliance: the Party of the Disappointed People.
When Kohler isn't burrowing into his sour jeremiad on being and nothingness, he's giving it a literal metaphor: digging an actual tunnel out of his basement. His tunnel, like his book, doesn't lead anywhere; it's a pointless chore, an existential act, and an artistic statement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Tunnel" Is A Literary Masterpiece July 31 1998
By A Customer
William Frederick Kohler, the protagonist of William Gass' "The Tunnel," is a loathsome, despicable, misanthropic college professor ranting at his wife, his colleagues, his children and his mistresses. The sheer genius of Gass' book is not merely that he breathes life into such a character, but that he makes him so pruriently fascinating. Gass took nearly 30 years to complete this book; the elegance and rhythm of the prose demonstrate his skilled craftsmanship throughout its nearly 700 pages. I can't wait to read it again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the best novel since Joyce's _Ulysses_. March 7 1999
By A Customer
Perhaps a perfect novel. He has recreated the novel by removing the "Flatutus Vocis" of many contemporary novels and creating, as Wallace Stevens would say, a "Supreme Fiction." Beware of the red "EXIT" on page 29. If you don't depart from this book at this point, you will fall in and you will not be able to escape. It's "the ring of a real Ding" of a novel.
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2.0 out of 5 stars No Light At The End of The Tunnel April 21 2001
William H Gass' The Tunnel is a huge disappointment - it's turgid, tedious and chaotic, with a surfeit of detail that's the literary equivalent of a build-up of sludge in a pipe. If you would prefer to read a more amenable and richly rewarding text by this author, try his early novel Omensetter's Luck, or the book of short fiction, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, both of which are wonderful.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Gass' The Tunnel April 13 2000
By A Customer
This is no book for women. In men alone is there heart enough for hate and mind enough for love, mind enough for such love of words and heart enough to hate life such that the words celebrate by themselves. It's nice to hate life for what it is. It's nice to love words for what they do.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tunnel is Tons of Funnel June 1 2001
By A Customer
Having several times emerged, soul intact, out the other end of author Gass's novel--I have read the book thrice over--nothing could be clearer than that his tunnel DOES have a beginning, as it likewise is posessed of an end. Its source is the foetidly teeming cesspool of its author's aesthetically blissful, honorably loathsome mind. Its terminus--having looped its way in non-linear transit, two steps forward, one back--the catchbasin of its reader's. Kafka's abyss, Melville's whale, Joyce's Dublin, Faulkner's Yoknapatawha, Lowry's volcano, Pynchon's movie theater, now Gass's tunnel. This is a vastly uplifting, profoundly entertaining work of art, a tour de force performance, as are all Gassian works, that succeeds in being innovative and instructive at once. Does it require "close" reading? Is it subject to multiple interpretations? Is it an exercise in form over content? Perhaps. What it requires moreso is the reader's willingness to experience its text as an act of music, as it is one of architecture. Gass typically is taken to task for "playing God" with his readers, for demanding THEIR surrender to HIS art. In fact, that is precisely what he does, and it is that alchemical quality that renders his work so divine. It is not everyday, after all, that a writer can so miraculously convert dross to gold. That "The Tunnel," more's the pity, is not for everyone, is scarcely its author's fault. We have a habit, as readers, of looking our best gifthorses in the mouth, and this novel, the writer's masterwork, is nothing if not a gift. He is a national treasure, William Howard Gass, and each of his sentences is a gesture of generosity. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Gass really lives up to his name.
If you can manage to make it through this 650 page ode to ego,triviality,not-so-deep insights and out-of-this-world pomposity,then you must have a strong stomach and one dirty... Read more
Published on April 1 2002 by timothy hilliard
5.0 out of 5 stars K tunnel -- has nothing to do with anything!
I saw the K tunnel once. I was at a rave in an old, decrepit laser tag arena. Everyone was strung out and the music was pretty bad, but all in all I didn't have a bad time. Read more
Published on Dec 11 2001 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Modernist swill
Ridiculous, pretentious, pompous, self-important, self-indulgent, altogether vile waste of paper, ink, time, and effort. Don't bother.
Published on Sept. 18 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Gass's ziggurat
This novel is utterly compelling, and once you accept the unstoppable nature of Gass's prose, you will be hooked on his unhinged and distressed language. Read more
Published on March 26 2001 by gladfly
5.0 out of 5 stars A true work of art
One of the most daring, original works of literature I've read, if not THE most. The Tunnel's prose is massively rich, challenging and rewarding on numerous levels, making... Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2001
1.0 out of 5 stars WINDBAG- HOW DO YOU DO IT?
Never have I read something so ostentatious and empty as this novel borne from the bowels of Gass' not-so-ponderous mind. All style, no substance. Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2001 by Ponderous one
5.0 out of 5 stars I dare you to read this book
The Tunnel is back in print!!!! This is with out a doubt the toughest, most challenging, most disturb- ing and (as a result) the most rewarding book (fiction or non-) I have ever... Read more
Published on June 20 1999
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