Wednesday, 27 June, 2012

Laurent Binet, son of an historian, was born in Paris and was awarded the 2010 Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman for his first novel, HHhH. The title is an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich (“Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), a popular Nazi quip about the monstrous SS-Obergruppenführer. It is a stunningly original work. Snippet:

HHhH “Natacha flicks through the latest issue of Magazine littéraire, which she kindly bought for me. She stops at the review of a book about the life of Bach, the composer. The article begins with a quote from the author: ‘Has there ever been a biographer who did not dream of writing, ‘Jesus of Nazareth used to lift his left eyebrow when he was thinking’? She smiles as she reads this to me.

I don’t immediately grasp the full meaning of the phrase and, faithful to my long-held disgust for realistic novels, I say to myself: Yuk! Then I ask her to pass me the magazine and I reread the sentence. I am forced to admit that I would quite like to possess this kind of detail about Heydrich. Natacha laughs openly: ‘Oh, yes, I can just see it: Heydrich used to lift his left eyebrow when he was thinking!'”

Those who see the novel as poor 19th-century relation of the 21st-centuryt boxed DVD set should set aside some time to read Binet’s book. Mad Men is well and good, but it’s formulaic. HHhH is unique.

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