The Tunnel (novel)

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This article is about the Gass novel. For similarly titled works, see The Tunnel (disambiguation)
The Tunnel
The Tunnel(pic).jpg
Second edition cover
Author William H. Gass
Country United States
Language English
Genre Postmodern, Metafiction
Publisher Knopf
Publication date
February 21, 1995
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 652 (depending on edition)
ISBN 978-0-06-097686-6
OCLC 33403165

The Tunnel is William H. Gass's 1995 magnum opus that took 26 years to write and earned him the American Book Award of 1996. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award.

The Tunnel is the work of William Frederick Kohler, a professor of history in an unnamed university in the American Midwest. Kohler's introduction to his major work on World War II, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany, the culmination of his years studying the aspects of the Nazi regime in the scope of its causes and effects, turns into The Tunnel, a brutally honest and subjective depiction of his own life and history and the opposite of the well-argued, researched and objective book he has just completed. When the harsh reality of his work begins to dawn on him, he fears that his wife will stumble onto his papers and read his most personal (and cruel) descriptions of his and their life. Because of this fear, he hides the pages of his introduction in places where he knows they will not be discovered and at the same time starts to dig a tunnel outward from the basement of his home.

In 2006 Dalkey Archive Press released an audiobook of the complete novel read by the author (in 2005 in St. Louis). The accompanying booklet prints Gass's overview of the novel's contents, structure, plot, "condition of the text," aim, cast, levels of organization, issues, and other matters.

Critical reception[edit]

Gass received the American Book Award for The Tunnel in 1996. Steven Moore claimed that it was ”a stupendous achievement and obviously one of the greatest novels of the century.”[1] Michael Silverblatt of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his review of the novel: "A bleak, black book, it engenders awe and despair. I have read it in its entirety 4½ times, each time finding its resonance and beauty so great as to demand another reading. As I read, I found myself devastated by the thoroughness of the book's annihilating sensibility and revived by the beauty of its language, the complexity of its design, the melancholy, horror and stoic sympathy in its rendering of what we used to call the human condition."[2] In his review of the novel in the New York Times Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote: "So why, given the considerable grimness of The Tunnel, does the reader still track its endless coils of prose? For the lyrical set pieces, for one thing; the haunting evocations of a small-town childhood so sensually rich in detail that the prose is sometimes hypnotic. But more compelling still is the tension Mr. Gass has created between literary art for its own sake and transcendent psychological truth."[3]

Robert Alter in his review of the book in The New Republic wrote: "Some may seize on it as a postmodern masterpiece, but it is a bloated monster of a book. (...) The bloat is a consequence of sheer adipose verbosity and an unremitting condition of moral and intellectual flatulence. (.....) The abjection of (Gass') hero seems less lived than written. It is an act of ventriloquism: behind the repulsive, potentially fascist narrator stands his critic, the novelist, presumably committed to humane, democratic values. But those values are nowhere intimated in the book, and what emerges is a kind of inadvertent complicity between author and protagonist. The supposedly critical novel becomes an enactment of bad faith."[4] Robert Kelly wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "It will be years before we know what to make of it." [5]


  1. ^ A review of The Tunnel in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1995, pp. 159–60.
  2. ^ L.A. Times Book Review, March 19, 1995
  3. ^ New York Times, February 23, 1995
  4. ^ The New Republic, 1995
  5. ^ New York Times, February 26, 1995

External links[edit]