HHhH by Laurent Binet, trans Sam Taylor
HHhH is the book du jour, the one that’s getting the blog-inches, mostly giving it glowing reviews. It won the Prix Goncourt in France, and Mario Vargas Llosa thinks it “magnificent.”
For anyone who hasn’t encountered it yet, HHhH is the story of Operation Anthropoid, in which two Czechoslovakian parachutists were sent on a mission to assassinate Nazi poster-boy Reinhard Heydrich, ‘the hangman of Prague’.
I don’t usually write posts when I’m halfway through a book, but as much as I’m
enjoying fascinated by HHhH, I’m having slight problems with it. The cover proclaims “All the characters are real. All the events depicted are true.” But it’s a novel! However you start reading it, and it’s all about an author – the actual author? – who is researching Op Anth. We have a story within a story, the author’s framing narrative, and his version of Heydrich’s life and the plot to end it.
The ‘author’ tells us about film depictions of Heydrich (including the rather brilliant Conspiracy with Kenneth Branagh). He debates with himself about what to leave in the book, and what to leave out. His girlfriend berates him for writing a cheesy sentence which imagines Himmler going red with apoplexy. He wishes that he could have written some better dialogue than documented discussions report. All this makes me feel that HHhH is less of a novel, and more of a ‘making of’ type of documentary book.
I normally don’t have any problems with this kind of metafictional concept, I am a Paul Auster fan after all! I am having problems reading HHhH as a novel though. It feels more like Anna Funder’s book Stasiland: Stories from behind the Berlin Wall which I read/reviewed earlier this year; that was a mixture of memoir and reportage – which is what HHhH feels like too. That added assertion that everything is true just adds to the non-novel feel.
All this adds up to HHhH being slightly hard going for me. In the beginning sections, I spent far too much time trying to decide whether the author in the book is the real author, or a fiction, and maybe that’s why I’ve struggled slightly. I’m nearly halfway through now and I won’t give up as the subject matter is too important to abandon.
So is this a novel, or is it a novelisation of a non-fictional topic, or something else?
Did you have any problems with this format?
Should I be bothered by this?
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I obtained my ARC through Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
HHhH by Laurent Binet, pub Harvill Secker, May 3, Hardback 338pp.
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
Conspiracy  – DVD starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci