Magazine article The Spectator

The Courage of Their Convictions

Magazine article The Spectator

The Courage of Their Convictions

Article excerpt

36 HHhH by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor Harvill Secker, £16.99, pp. 336, ISBN 9781846554797 HHhH is a prize-winning French novel about a writer writing a novel about the plot to kill the Gestapo boss Reinhard Heydrich.

A lot of people reckon it's a big deal - Martin Amis, Mario Vargas Llosa, me - so naturally there's a backlash afoot. In a fit of territorial pissing disguised as an interview, Michael Burleigh revealed that Laurent Binet 'does not even read German' (which HHhH admits on page 28) and professed surprise that his research failed to take in a Heydrich biography published (as Burleigh didn't say) almost two years after HHhH first came out.

I suppose part of the problem is that Binet asks for trouble with clever-dick lines like this one: 'This scene is not really useful, and on top of that I practically made it up.

I don't think I'm going to keep it.' HHhH has two stories to tell in this self-aware style.

One (pure horror) shows how Heydrich rose to viceroy in what was Czechoslovakia. The other (lionhearted derring-do) describes the patient tooling-up of the offshore resistance movement that sent Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis to assassinate, against almost impossible odds, the heavily guarded Heydrich as he drove through Prague on 27 May 1942. Binet reconstructs these events with help from memoirs, photographs, movies, museum exhibits - and his own speculation, at which his lover is ever ready to scoff. It's fresh, honest and exciting.

Read it in French if you can. …

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