We continue our discussion of July’s Book of the Month, HHhH, by looking at the critical reception of Laurent Binet’s novel.
The Guardian describe it as “a breezily charming novel, with a thrilling story that also happens to be true, by a gifted young author amusingly anguished over the question of how to tell it … In principle there’s nothing not to like about Laurent Binet’s acclaimed debut, and HHhH is certainly a thoroughly captivating performance. Whether you find it something more than that will depend on how you feel about the application of breezy charm and amusingly anguished authorial self-reflexiveness to a book about the Nazi security chief Reinhard Heydrich, who must be one of the most unfunny figures in recorded history.”
In The Telegraph, David Annard writes that “over 257 short chapters, HHhH recounts both the mission undertaken by Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis as they travel from France to Britain and then on to Prague and their fateful encounter with Heydrich, and also the mission undertaken by Binet as he tries to put together an accurate account of two men whom he admires so much but about whom he knows so little. This doesn’t stop him being scrupulous about facts: he is forever scolding himself for perceived flights of fancy. His aim is to produce what he calls an “infranovel”, one that is constantly examining its own particular claim to truth.
If this sounds pompous, the book certainly isn’t: it achieves a playful lightness with its comic updates on the state of Binet’s relationship and its bruising analysis of other accounts of the period. And it is conventionally successful too, as both a gripping thriller and a moving testament to the heroes of the Czechoslovakian resistance. Their mission reset the path of history. Binet’s resets the path of the historical novel. He has a bright, bright future.”
The New Yorker discusses the ‘fictional’ aspects of the novel by stating “there is invention and artifice on every page of Binet’s novel. Some of it is transparent and confessed, but most of it is hidden and unconfessed. At first, I assumed that Binet was aware of both kinds of contradiction, and was playing a very deep game, in which the novel’s narrator is not identical with the author, and is only partly conscious of his own “cheap literary effects.” But, in an interview with the Guardian, Binet emphatically declares that he is identical with the narrator, and that he always hated being told by schoolteachers to separate author and narrator. And elsewhere, in pages excised from the novel by its editor (and reprinted on the Web site The Millions), Binet attacks the fictionalizing urge generally, and the French-American novelist Jonathan Littell in particular, whose “The Kindly Ones” was narrated by a fictional Nazi criminal. Binet cannot understand Littell’s urge to invent things: “I want to know how things really happened, so I expect him to tell me—at the very least—when an episode is true and when it is his invention. Otherwise, reality is reduced to the level of fiction.”
Intrigued? Join us this month for our Book of the Month discussion!
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