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HHhH - Nov 2020 Book Group discussion thread

13 watchers
Dec 2020
12:27am, 13 Dec 2020
19975 posts
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So Iā€™m also a 9. And also thought there was a fascination with Heydrich which was supposed to show why he was such an important target but made the book more about him than the parachutists. And that not knowing the car colour showed how little you could be sure about any history, which could make anyone question their research. And that a lot of the asides were deliberate to show this was a story that was personal and should be taken emotionally - that to recount so much death neutrally starts to make individual deaths matter of fact and lost in the deluge
Dec 2020
9:20pm, 30 Dec 2020
11621 posts
  • 0
Little Nemo
I finished this a while ago but it's a hard book to review. My major problem with it was the author's dilemma over how to tell this story. I found this a somewhat self-imposed and artificial dilemma. I'd be happy to read either a fictionalised account of a totally factual one. It felt like the author was trying to have his cake and eat it when he kept going on about not wanting to make them into characters but then appeared to do exactly that later on. I don't think it contributed anything and at times interrupted the flow of the story. Also I felt sorry for his girlfriends.

A more trivial problem was the style. At times it felt as though he had just chucked his notes into a random pile of fragments. And there were no bloody page numbers!!!

But despite that I did find this a great and important read. Especially towards the end when he seemed to tell the story in a more straightforward and less fractured way. I found it fascinating to have another country's view on how Britain behaved during the war. I didn't know a great deal about what happened to Czechoslovakia in WWII so it was eye-opening. I also didn't know what happened to Heydrich so that part was thrilling. Initially I thought they had completely bungled it, it was a surprise to find that he succumbed to blood poisoning.

I gave this book a 7, would have been a 9 without the author's interruptions!
Dec 2020
9:35pm, 30 Dec 2020
11622 posts
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Little Nemo
Interesting to read back on everyone else's opinions. Secretly glad I'm not the only one who struggled with the style :-)
Dec 2020
4:13pm, 31 Dec 2020
20729 posts
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Just parcelled my copy up to send to Younger Daughter (when the post office is next open).
4 Jan
8:30am, 4 Jan 2021
47974 posts
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Been meaning to post this for a few days. For those who enjoyed HHhH there are some other books on my 'eee, that were a grand read' pile that are reminiscent, principally another French author in translation, Eric Vuillard.

I'm currently listening to the (short, 2h43m) audiobook of The Order of the Day which I've previously read in print. It tells of the various meetings in the 1930s that lead up to WW2. Meetings between Nazis and German industrialists, between the Germans and British, Czechs etc. So, yes, we're impinging on HHhH territory. There's less of the author in the book but enough to remind you of Binet. The third chapter, which is where I've currently reached, describing those industrialists meeting Hitler for the first time is absolutely brilliant.

It's not all Nazis. Vuillard also wrote Sorrow of the Earth which is about how the 'Cowboy and Indian' image we got in the Twentieth Century was largely a creation of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

If you get 'em, make sure it's the excellent translation by Mark Polizzotti. There are lots of print and audio editions of Vuillard's works out there in forrin.
4 Jan
8:35am, 4 Jan 2021
44090 posts
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Thank you

I read Fatherland straight after which was an interesting juxtaposition.
8 Mar
10:56am, 8 Mar 2021
17286 posts
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A bit late to this, first of disclosure, I am the son of a Sudeten Czech/German father, so it had a special resonance for me.

Binet sits very squarely in the French (post?)modernist "tradition", (although I'm certainly no expert in this area), he even cocks a very deliberate snook at Houllebecq (who he's younger than by a decade?) when he criticises the book saying the book "The Kindly ones" is "Houllebecq does nazism", and his sideways swipe involves terms such as nihilist and amoral aimed as much as Michel as "The Kindly ones". But it comes across like one rapper dissing another, because by somewhat self-consciously adopting this tone he is nailing his own colours to the mast. James Lasdun in the Guardian suggests this is "Kundera does nazism", Kundnani in the new Statesman suggests that Binet has misread the Kindly ones, and taken it as a straightforward novelistic account and thus "confused the author with the narrator", and does "The Kindly ones" a disservice which has more than a hint of these authorial dilemmas in too.

I must admit I think the French do this better than the English authors - see Amis (Money), see Coe (The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim), where they insert themselves into the story in a clunky, hamfisted way a mittened Great Dane might insert a cornice into a matchstick sculpture. I suppose the question is does this work, or is it still a tricksy literary device?

It helps Binet's style is readable, somewhat jaunty (perhaps too jaunty) as others have remarked on. Although he uses it to hide a somewhat darker manifesto, that the assassination of Heydrich was a necessary act, because the retaliation at Lidice marked out Hitler as someone who was insane and his whole regime is not something you could come to terms with (ergo the loss of life was justifiable - not because it was justifiable, but because such massacres would carry on happening in the Reich if Hitler remained unchallenged) Whether this is arguable, I don't have the necessary historical grounding to base an opinion on, and I never studied world war 2 despite doing history to a-level (how did I manage that?), I don't know. But it is a point strongly made.

However, I do share a very emotive intersection with Binet, that Chamberlain was a spineless coward, who sold the Czechs out, still the worst PM this country has ever had. ("The Ghosts Of Munich" - Georges Marc Benamou - is a straightforward novelistic but meticulous French account of Chamberlain and Hitler's chess like zugzwanging of French PM Daladier into the shameful selling out of the Czechs and the effective abandonment of the French-Czech pact, is well worth reading).

And also like Binet, I agree the Good Soldier Svejk is a modern day classic - and perhaps rather than Kundera, it is Hasek, Svejk's author he is trying to emulate, using the ostensible jauntiness to siphon you the true atrocities of Lidice, the Final Solution, the betrayal of Kubis and Gabcik, which would be otherwise hard to stomach. So I was prenaturally well disposed to Binet anyway, and thus somewhat blinded to his flaws - as picked up by other reviewers here, the two dimensional characterisation of women - even his gf, his own agenda and views on 20th century geopolitics.

And yet it still feels a somehow more satisifying read than Harris's always accessible and interesting "historical novels". Binet is lying, he is conscious that he is lying, and he is telling you he is lying. This at least is honest, and he makes no attempt to hide his biases. But the novel itself is a tricksy literary device, and so I give it 9 having stated my own biases and noting I like the modern/post modern style which when done well brings something new to the table, but yet ultimately agreeing with the Lasdun that it owes its true emotional force to something much more conventional and "noveslistic"
8 Mar
11:41am, 8 Mar 2021
21131 posts
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Same score and same ultimate conclusions Chrisull
8 Mar
8:35pm, 8 Mar 2021
45518 posts
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Thank you. Enjoyed reading your review and broadly agree.

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