Nazi gets a novel makeover

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Sam Twyford-moore

‘ Gabout war, which with it­self.

HHhH tells the story of Op­er­a­tion Athro­poid, a tac­ti­cal op­er­a­tion in 1942 in which Jozef Gab­cik and Jan Ku­bis were sent into oc­cu­pied Cze­choslo­vakia from their Lon­don ex­ile to as­sas­si­nate Rein­hard Hey­drich, ‘‘ the most dan­ger­ous man in the Third Re­ich’’ and seen by some as the heir-ap­par­ent to Hitler. ABCIK — that’s his name — re­ally did ex­ist.’’ So runs the un­easy opening line of Lau­rent Binet’s HHhH, a his­tor­i­cal novel is also prac­ti­cally at war

The loopy ti­tle HHhH is an acro­nym for Himm­lers Hirn heisst Hey­drich, which trans­lates into English plainly as ‘‘ Himm­ler’s brain is called Hey­drich’’.

Binet is fas­ci­nated and repulsed by Hey­drich and spends the first half of his de­but novel doc­u­ment­ing his hor­ri­fy­ing rise in power, be­fore giv­ing way to the hero­ics of Gab­cik and Ku­bis.

Mixed through­out th­ese par­al­lel plots are the French au­thor’s ob­ser­va­tions about the process of writ­ing his novel. The book is a book, of course, but it’s also a book about be­ing a book.

Binet’s voice — and Binet has made it clear in in­ter­views that he and his nar­ra­tor are one and the same — is witty, charm­ing and eru­dite, but he’s also of­ten in­dig­nant at other works of fic­tion, and deeply se­ri­ous when con­sid­er­ing his re­spon­si­bil­ity as a writer to the legacy of those he writes about (and those he doesn’t).

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