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The Tunnel Paperback – 1 Apr 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Paperback, 1 Apr 2005
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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New edition edition (1 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564782131
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564782137
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 4.9 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Gass has produced a book that burrows inside us then wails like a beast, a book that mainlines a century's terror direct to the brain."-"Voice Literary Supplement"

About the Author

William H. Gass is the author of four novels Omensetter's Luck, Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife, The Tunnel, and Middle C as well as two volumes of short stories and eight collections of essays. Gass was a professor of philosophy at Washington University from 1966-2000, and Director of the International Writers Center from 1990 until 2000. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the Pen-Nabokov Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and National Book Critics Circle Awards for Criticism in 1985, 1996, and 2003, among others.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this novel with a strange mix of emotions. The anti-hero is as unappealing as an anti-hero should be. His character, obsessions and career in Hitler studies do not make it easy to identify with him. However gradually Gass creates a character who is multidimensional and not without sympathetic qualities.
At times the writing is absolutely stunning. At these points I was convinced that this was one of the truly great modern novels, but then there would be longeurs when I just wanted to finish quickly. By the end I was convinced that the novel was one that will haunt me for a very long time. However it is not in the class of William Gaddis, who remains, for me anyway, the exemplary American novelist of the recent past. I am reluctant to say this but I feel that Gass would have benefitted from a more rigorous editor.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The most stunningly written book I've read in a long time, somewhere between Laurence Sterne and Nabokov.
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By WN on 19 Jan. 2015
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9468ee64) out of 5 stars 36 reviews
71 of 80 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9441fb34) out of 5 stars Not for everyone. Certainly not for me. 30 April 2004
By frumiousb - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9441fb88) out of 5 stars Planmantee Particularly: A new comedy coming this fall on Fox 28 July 2008
By GeoX - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Loopy work of genius, or insane self-indulgence? I went back and forth in my opinion whilst reading this book, but ultimately, I think the only reasonable answer is "why not both?" Unfortunately, I think we can also add "catastrophic artistic failure" to the list.

On a sentence-by-sentence level, Gass's writing is absolutely dazzling, it's true. That should not be understated, because it's what redeems the book, if you think it's redeemable. One might politely question whether it was actually worth spending thirty years to write, but it's obvious where all that time went. The frequent tyographical tricks are perhaps less groundbreaking than Gass thinks they are, but they're amusing enough, and they certainly don't detract from the work. For a pure aesthete, therefore, this novel--or, perhaps, "novel"--may be just the thing. Furthermore, some of the vignettes, particularly those concerning Kohler's childhood, are fairly arresting. In particular, the section towards the end which tells of his mother's alcohol-related institutionalization is repellant but quite arresting. So while I don't want to understate the things that The Tunnel does well, I cannot help but feel that when examined holistically, things fall apart a bit. A big bit.

Kohler, the narrator, is a repulsive figure. I think few would attempt to argue otherwise. His endless, resentful self-pity--I hate my colleagues; I hate my wife; I hate my parents; I hate my children; I don't get the respect I deserve just because I'm a Nazi sympathizer and possibly also because I abuse my power to seduce my students--is enough, truly, to wear a man down. Even if some of his complaints (not the last one) may have some legitimacy (and given what a wildly unreliable narrator he is, this is by no means certain) his inability to let ANYTHING go, EVER, is not itself a particularly attractive trait. Occasionally a tiny sliver of humanity may slip through, but it is quite overwhelmed by the ever-present darkness.

So why, one might ask, are we subjected to six hundred fifty pages of EVERY SINGLE DAMN THING that goes through this man's head? Is this not a deeply perverse exercise? Gass has stated that the book is meant to serve as "a progessive indictment of the reader;" that he "want[s] to get the reader to say yes to Kohler, although Kohler is a monster. That means that every reader in that moment has admitted to monstrousness." Very well: but does he actually achieve this effect? I'm not trying to sound self-righteous, but I think that I personally must remain unindicted here. The only times it's possible not to object to Kohler is on those uncommon occasions when he's not being objectionable--and that doesn't seem like much of a feat on the author's part. As for Kohler's bitterness, his hated of everything around him, his self-identification with the Nazis: no. No, not at all. His explanations of bigotry and his rationale for the Party of Disappointed People (which is to consist primarily of bigots) are unconvincing. The point that people behave as monsters because of comprehensible socioeconomic disappointments is so obvious as to go unsaid; that doesn't mean that one has to identify with them or accept what they do. It's not a matter of not wanting to be the kind of person to whom this stuff appeals; it's a matter of it simply NOT APPEALING, and I would be a little nervous to meet someone to whom it did. You know what novel succeeded in implicating the reader--or this reader, at any rate--by making him say yes to a monster? Lolita. So it can be done. Gass just hasn't done it.

So what's left? All we really have is pages and pages of an unpleasant individual expounding upon his unpleasant life and his unpleasant philosophy. Yes, there are dirty limericks aplenty--always a plus--but most of them scan quite poorly and/or try to use the same words twice for the rhymes, so even that's a letdown. The book is impressive as a character portrait, granted, but is it really useful or informative or edifying or ANYTHING to force readers to spend so much time with this guy? Is this really the reason why people love the book so? Really? Please, someone kindly tell me: if not that, then what purpose does all of this serve? It's not a rhetorical question; I would be much obliged if somebody would enlighten me. Most of the glowing reviews seem extremely vague on exactly what, in their view, makes this a great book.

Again, I want to emphasize: the writing on display here is amazing, and it's enough to render the book at least somewhat readable. For that reason, and because there's really nothing else like it, it might be worth a go. It's certainly memorable; I hope, however, that, if completed (write faster! You're eighty-four years old!), the legendary Middle C has more to offer the reader than occasional bleak aestheticism.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9441ffc0) out of 5 stars A difficult book. 9 Oct. 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The premise of the Tunnel is quite intriguing. It is is book
that deceives, that doesn't even show you the truth obliquely, as
Emily Dickinson put it, but instead gives you its mutilated remains
and asks you to play coroner. It is a difficult read, and requires
that you suspend your expectations for coherence, succinctness, logical
narrative flow, and even consistency in font and formatting.
In exchange, you get plugged into the raw static of a tortured mind.
Is it innovative? Definitely. Is it successful? Sometimes.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94422390) out of 5 stars American Metafiction Masterpiece 6 Jan. 2006
By Wordsworth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Consider that William Gass created this masterpiece over roughly the same time frame it takes to pay off the average mortgage -- 652 pages in 30 years. One has to respect such care in crafting The Tunnel. How many times was this draft edited to create in essence a final draft written at the plodding, prodding pace of 22 pages per annum? Gass took more time crafting The Tunnel than Joyce did Ulysses. And it shows. The syntax is not of this world. His use of metaphor is off the charts in its creativity. There are worlds, even galaxies, in his words. The writing is sheer poetry in places -- a pure joy to read. He is honest, pithy, probing, penetrating and very often hilarious in his Notes from Underground. Like Proust I recommend that you read Gass slowly to revel in the world in his every well-placed word. There is unquestionable genius in this work as evident as the genius of William Gaddis or Joyce or Proust. Gass and Gaddis redeem the contemporary American novel and Dalkey Archive should be congratulated for its devotion to publishing American masters whom America has not yet properly recognized as such. I really can't say enough in praise of this substantive literary novel, which is profoundly wise and brilliantly crafted and even luminous as a literary legacy sure to render Gass prominent, permanent billing among the American masters of the late 20th century. Savor the writing of William Gass: real genius resides underground in The Tunnel.
27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94422078) out of 5 stars The Tunnel is Tons of Funnel 1 Jun. 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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. At last, however hateful, "The Tunnel" is that rarest of creations, a thing of sublime and subterranean beauty, one that cuts with unflinching grace and honesty against the grain of its own self-created ground. Those who fail to recognize this are no more deserving of blame than are the tone-deaf for having tin ears, but they are, perhaps, owed our condolences. Is life a tunnel? A tunnel life? Might both be true? Dig into this novel, delve, dredge, quarry, excavate. The answer awaits.
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