• Year Published: 1959.
  • Pages: 304.

Billiards at Half Past Nine Summary


Billiards at Half Past Nine or Billard um halb zehn in German is a 1959 novel that was written by the German author Heinrich Boll. The novel is based on the day of September the 6, 1958 with sections of the story stretching back through the use of allusions and flashbacks as well as the reenactment of memories of the characters.

The novel focuses on the history of the Faehmel family, a history that begins from the end of the 19th century to the present-day which is 1958. The novel is a portrayal of the position the author took on Nazism as well as the war in general.


The narrative is relayed in form of a story that seems to reflect the author’s personal attitude and opinion towards war in general. Leonore, the secretary to Robert Faehmel describes Robert as someone who is meticulous in everything he does. As an old friend of Faehmel calls at the office, Leonore sends him to the Prince Heinrich Hotel where Robert is apparently is on a daily basis from 9:30 to 11:00 am. The visitor who we later learn is known as Nettlinger is denied access by the hotel bellboy, Jochen. Jochen claims his patron is in the billiard room and wouldn’t want to be disturbed.

As Robert narrates his life to Hugo upstairs, we learn that his old friend was once a Nazi policeman but what does he want? Robert and his friend, Schrella, both of whom were school mates were vehemently opposed to the Nazis and it is here that we learn Schrella disappeared after being beaten by Nettlinger and Old Wobbly who was their gym teacher who was also a Nazi policeman. Did Nettlinger have a hand in the disappearance?

However, Nettlinger and Old Wobbly did more than just beat Schrella and Robert as they are also responsible for the corruption of one of Robert’s siblings named Otto, who died in 1942. Even worse is the fact that his mother, Johanna Kilb, was committed to a mental institution as a result of trying to save Jews from the cattle cars going to the extermination camps. After a long disappearance, we see Schrella emerging and returning to Germany so as to try and talk with Nettlinger who tries to create an impression of a reformed individual, even though his actions depict the exact opposite.

We are also introduced to Joseph Faehmel alongside his girlfriend Marianne. Joseph is a son of Robert and we learn that he is not especially happy with the fact that his father destroyed the beautiful Abbey that was built by his grandfather. We also learn of how his girlfriend survived an onslaught from her father who was a Nazi, after the father committed suicide at the end of the war and ordered her mother to murder the children before taking his life. It was an unexpected arrival of strangers that spared her life. The story continues with several twists and turns and some of the ensuing scenes introduce us to Johanna, now in control of her wits, leaving the sanatorium and with her is a pistol she intends to use to settle a score on Old Wobbly.


Heinrich Boll uses various stylistic devices here, the most notable of which is flashbacks to help drive the point home. Perhaps the greatest moral of the entire novel is his loathe for Nazism and the entire concept of war. He also does not shy away from advancing the good old saying, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword’’.

Billiards at Half Past Nine Themes

  • Stupidity of War
  • Identity
  • Conformity
  • Time and Memory

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