Book of the Week: HHhH by Laurent Binet

Laurent Binet fascinating HHhH is our new Book of the Week


Laurent Binet’s enigmatic and fascinatingly contradictory HHhH is far from your average work of historical fiction. Described at turns as confessional, wittily postmodern, original and knowing, it’s received a veritable glut of high praise from high corners.

But firstly, the particulars – the slightly unusual, repetitive title takes its cue from the German saying ‘Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich’ (which, when translated into English, means, ‘Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich’). This was a reference to the fact that while Heinrich Himmler was the formal head of the SS, the real control rested with his 2IC, Reinhard Heydrich – the head of the SS’s intelligence unit and cruel arbiter of the Final Solution (also infamously nicknamed ‘the hangman of Prague’, ‘the blond beast’ and ‘the most dangerous man in the Third Reich’ for his deeds). In 1942, two parachutists, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were enlisted to assassinate him, a plan which was code named Operation Anthropoid (which, incidentally, was what Binet had hoped to call the book). It was a daring mission that, while ultimately successful, never went completely to plan, and it is this tense unfolding that forms the crux of HHhH.

However, Binet is not just concerned with historical drama. Rather he also seeks to reveal what he calls ‘the puerile, ridiculous nature of novelistic invention’. To this end, his authorial voice is vividly present throughout the book. He speaks directly to the reader, introducing facts and statements only to remind us sentences later that research is not always to be trusted, that history too is fictive and a creature of speculation and conjecture.

Our head books buyer Martin Shaw wrote recently in his review:

‘[T]he glory of the book is Binet’s insistence that aesthetic problems are also ethical ones. He is at pains to always locate himself in the narrative, often very amusingly “I’ve been talking rubbish…”); to stress when he doesn’t have sufficient evidence to be making certain statements (but most amusingly sometimes saying them anyway, acknowledging the freedom fiction affords)… You will read it and weep; but also rejoice.’

HHhH is out now in paperback ($27.95).


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Laurent Binet, Sam Taylor

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