I have come quite late to HHhH - all year it has been one of those books I have been meaning to read, but always putting off, perhaps suspicious of the unanimous praise it received from colleague after colleague. However, once it was listed for our Book of the Year I knew I should tackle it, and I am so glad I did. It is astonishing.
Laurent Binet relates the story of Reinhard Heydrich, one of Hitler’s key men and an architect of the Holocaust. It was he who coined the expression “the final solution”. While Binet does not shy from the brutal truth of Heydrich’s ambition and nature, he infuses all the key characters with humanity, even if they are the dregs of it. Throughout the text small instances of heroism and resistance are thrown up in relief to the ever-growing onslaught of efficient brutality the Nazi’s inflict upon the countries they invade and, of course, the Jews of Europe.
In a device that risks irritating or distracting but never does, Binet drops into the story to question his motives for writing it, and his use of imagination coupled with research. It’s an original, daring conceit and I felt it brought me closer to the story – as Binet makes a discovery, I make it, and in this way when sharp truths emerge they are all the more shocking for it. The revenge meted out on the small Czech village of Lidice following the assassination attempt became a turning point in the way the Nazis were viewed the world over. It’s only a few pages long here, but the images Binet conjures are unforgettable.
Praise must also be given to the translator. While this is fiction at its best, it is an effortless read, and Sam Taylor must be praised for his work. This is the most impressive novel I have read this year, my choice for Book of the Year, and definitely the one I will be giving as a present this Christmas.
Jon Howells, for Waterstones.com/blog
The Waterstones Book of the Year will be announced on November 29th. Find out more about the Waterstones Book of the Year shortlist here.
Have you already read HHhH? What did you think of it? Is it your Book of the Year too? Let us know in the comments below.