HHhH by Laurent Binet

HHhH by Laurent Binet

French fiction

Translator – Sam Taylor

Laurent Binet is one of the hottest new writers in France ,this his debut novel won the Prix Goncourt prize for debut novel rather like our Costa prize for a first novel in the UK .He was Born and grew up in Paris, his father is a historian .He recently chronicled the campaign of the new french president Hollande .He currently teaches in Paris .

Well I think every one has heard of HHhH by now .I do wish every book in translation was given as much press time as this book has been .I think this is help in a large part by the wonderful job Harvill ecker have done on the book as an item of book art in its self a stunning cover shot, is match by a nice grey marble hardback and the use of a germanic style font for the HHhH which is also follow through on the edge of the pages a bit like a huge red ink stamp ,you may have seen in countless world war two movies .So I give it away the book is about the second world war and mainly about three people three people the first is the character of the tile as the title is an acronym for Herr Himmler gesicht heisst Heydrich or Himler’s brain is called Heydrich – Heydrich was Himler’s right hand man and for those of you who remember was played by Kenneth Branagh in the film (well tv play here but think a film abroad ) Conspiracy ,I have include the trailer here give an idea of the man we are talking about in the book .Binet opens the book with the build up of Heydrich from his youth ,then in the army and then as an officer in the S.S and how he ended up as the one that started the final solution he was the one the proposed the mass killing of the Jews in europe .

Little Heydrich – cute blond ,studious ,hardworking ,loved by his parents .Violinist ,pianist ,junior chemist .A boy with a shrill voice which earns him a nickname the first in a long list : at school ,they called him the goat .

A little boy who grew into ? well watch the trailer for an idea

So we see how the boy they called the ” goat ” became” the butcher of Prague” .As he rises in power and ends up in Czechoslovakia ,he becomes a target for assassination by the Czech resistance and this is the second part of the book to men are sent by Czechoslovakian resistance to kill him in Operation Anthripod the two men chosen are Gabik and Kubis are two very different men to one another but are sent with one purpose sent with one purpose to Kill the butcher of Prague .

Gabcik the Slovak and Kubis the Moravian have never been to Prague ,and in fact this is one of the reasons they were chosen .If they don’t know anyone the won’t be recognized .But lack of local knowledge is a handicap ,so part of the training involves studying maps of the beautiful city .

Is it a handicap the lack of knowledge you’ll have to read the book.

Well now I have a problem ,I liked this book a lot. But I did have one or two problems with it .The historic narrative is great the long passages of action are worthy to stand up with all great war fiction ,he captures the build up of Heydrich as an SS officer well and then the tension of the two men in pursuit of Heydrich well as well .No my problem is the third narrative strain which is Binet breaking out of the book and talking to you as the reader this is rather like Calvino did at time in if on a winter’s night, he address you as a reader ,the main drive of this discussion is a comparison between his book HHhH and the book the Kindly ones by Jonathan Littell (he is american but grew up speaking french and writes in french this book is the only book in the last ten years I ve not finished ) ,Now I didn’t particularly like the kindly ones but Binet really didn’t like it ,the french publisher had to remove twenty pages of his words about the kindly ones from the french edition of this book .I like some of his comments about writing in general but others seem less important .The book hasn’t page numbers just chapters number I do wonder if the chapters are like bits he collect as he thought of the book as some just half-dozen lines others tens of pages like he almost decide to include his own notes as he progressed through the book . The book remind a bit in style of the bits of USA by John dos Passos I read when I got it to read a few years ago a mish mash of narrative, fact and commentary thus build a novel a bit like you may a collage out of little bits of pictures to build a bigger picture that is HHhH .Now I ve read that some people having problems with the translation some names have been change from the French edition I m not overly concerned the change of the surname Veil in french to Weil in english as it is a germanic name the V is said like “vow” in english anyway so could sound like a w in english .As a first job of translating from french to english Sam Taylor has done a sterling job .

Have you read this book what did you think ?

May 2012


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