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128 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So what exactly is a novel ?
I must admit this book sent me scurrying to see what the definition of a novel is. It is described on the cover as a novel and inside the author speaks of it as a novel and yet this is the true story of the wartime assassination attempt made on the life of Reinhard Heyrick, "the hangman of Prague", by two Czech resistance fighters sent from London. Its actually much...
Published on 25 April 2012 by C. Bones

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Postmodern Tragedy
The book tells the fascinating story of the parachutists assassins dropped in to occupied Czechoslovakia and their target the truly evil Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. I knew nothing of the tragic history and it opened my eyes to another chapter of the Second World War. It was pleasing that the author chose to help us remember so many unsung heroes. However it was also one of...
Published 3 months ago by russell king


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128 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So what exactly is a novel ?, 25 April 2012
By 
C. Bones "surreyman" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: HHhH (Hardcover)
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I must admit this book sent me scurrying to see what the definition of a novel is. It is described on the cover as a novel and inside the author speaks of it as a novel and yet this is the true story of the wartime assassination attempt made on the life of Reinhard Heyrick, "the hangman of Prague", by two Czech resistance fighters sent from London. Its actually much more than that telling as it does of the whole rise of Hitler's Germany but it has a focus on Prague where Heydrich reigned supreme. And it is all true. The events described did happen and all of the characters did exist. There are no made up events, no invented characters, no fictional subplots. The author does make up dialogue to fit scenes for which there are no historical record, but he always makes it clear that in these instances he is writing history as it might have happened, as he would like to think that it happened.

So what makes it a novel ? Laurent Binet adopts the post-modern technique of placing himself inside his story to tell us how it developed, the people he met, the mistakes he made, the books he read and gives us his thoughts and feelings as he "lives" the story. At times he tells events with himself placed in the "now" and sometimes he places himself in Prague at the time events were unfolding. Also the structure does not flow in the linear fashion that a purely historical account might. It moves back and forth from events sometimes major sometimes minor, sometimes just a random quote from a wartime diary, sometimes a few paragraphs to tell how the author came across a related book and what he thought of it. The author is trying to make us experience what it was like to be there and he doesn't have any qualms as to how he goes about it.

And then there is the writing. Binet writes in a powerful and yet highly personal way. One minute he is writing a stirring or chilling account of events in Nazi Germany and the next he is slagging off some writer that he has come across. We are never in doubt that the author is passionately and personally involved with this story nor that there is a huge amount of research behind it.

And I think it is the coming together of all of the above that makes it a novel. When the structure and style and the writing combine to create something that is more artistic than any purely historical account would ever be, we have a novel. I think.

More importantly, it is brilliant. I often try to read historical accounts and just get bogged down in the dryness and wordiness of it all. Here Binet has written about something that I didn't even know that I wanted to know about and yet I was enthralled for every page of it. It would be easy to say it reads like a thriller and is completely unputdownable. Yes, but there is also a uniqueness that you will to have read the book to understand

Try it. This is a great novel !
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reinvention of the historical novel, but loyal to an epic story, 5 May 2012
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: HHhH (Hardcover)
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I spent my Honeymoon in Prague one crisp and clear December, and among the happy memories, I recall coming across the Saints Cyril and Methodius` Cathedral in the middle of the city. What caught my eye wasn't the architecture, but the figure of a World War II `British' paratrooper, depicted by a statue outside the cathedral, surrounded like a saint's statue by lights, candles and flowers, next to a window pulverised by ancient bullet holes.

Like the author of this utterly compelling and innovative novel, I began to read about Operation Anthropoid, the story behind this book. In a popular media haunted by glamorous and glamorised accounts of special operations, the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich still speaks of the creeping terror of resistance operations, and the un-faded horror of the revenge killings executed by an utterly ruthless regime.

The malign genius of the story remains Heydrich, the quintessential Nazi, like yet unlike so many of his superiors and peers. He was not merely a sickeningly twisted inadequate, but had an icy glamour, being a compelling, intelligent figure as well as an amoral force. The story of his assassination and its motivation is dominated by the fear that such an able and lucid man would seize control of Germany's armed forces if anything happened to Hitler. Allied governments feared the power of the Third Reich would be dominated by someone who actually knew what they were doing. A supreme commander who might listen to his generals was too horrific to contemplate. This, combined with the pressures, compromises and anxieties of the Czech government in exile in London, led to the parachute drop of two soldiers, one Czech, one Slovak, on a lonely mission to rid Czechoslovakia and Europe of a tyrant.

The image of Heydrich in popular culture is dominated in my mind by the chilling portrayal of Heydrich by Kenneth Branagh in the film Conspiracy, and his appearance as a character in the latest Bernie Gunther novel by Philip Kerr. The claustrophobia of Anthropoid is also captured in the low-key 1970s film Operation Daybreak. I think if you want a dispassionate account of the operation from the military history perspective, you couldn't do better than the newly reissued and best account of the assassination by Callum Macdonald, The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

This novel is something different, a breath-taking debut from young writer which moves easily between two very distinct genres. It seems imperfect, and compromised on first reading: sometimes mannered and self-conscious. But this is the essence of what the novelist is trying to do, and it makes for a powerful examination of the way a novel tells the story and the effects of novel writing on the author, dramatizing the pressure of doing justice to such a resonant and true story. The nearest British example I can think of in terms of this style was John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. Fowles was of course, influenced heavily by the French writer, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and obvious that this strand of the French "new novel" has been an influence on the young writer of this ground-breaking work. Binet combines the best elements of the thriller with a knowing self-interrogation of his literary process, and he resolutely refuses to fall between two stools, challenging, stimulating and delighting both audiences. I was particularly drawn to the self-conscious self-criticism of the fascination of the Second World War continues to cast across the generations. Binet is unashamedly a player of computer games, and the cold austerity of the war years seep even into his dreams. His engagement with the conflict and with the malign figure of Heydrich is troubling, yet honest, and created a deep sense of empathy from this reviewer. Readers interested in the anatomy of a fixation on an obscure topic by a writer, might find the short essay "9th and 13th" by Jonathan Coe where he dissects his obsession with the film "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes".

This is a wildly different novel to Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall, but struck me as similar in its energy and reinvention of the genre. I could go on, but after reading this novel I feel any final words or statement on the Anthropoid story should conclude with the names of the two brave men who met their death in a cold church in a Prague side street: Jozef Gab'ík and Jan Kubis - rest in peace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and innovative, 2 July 2014
This review is from: HHhH (Kindle Edition)
BThis really does deserve 5* because the author has managed to write a book which we all trying to categorise. It can just about claim to be a novel but it is an indication of the author's skill that the argument will continue. The book sets out the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942 and, in doing so, honours the extraordinary bravery of the two assassins and their supporters in the Resistance. It also captures the tragedy of Czecholovakia from 1938 and highlights the abandonment of the country by Britain and France but also the mind of Heydrich. Massive research has gone into the book and the author is sufficiently confident to take on and challenge others who gave told the same story in film or literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Postmodern Tragedy, 6 May 2014
This review is from: HHhH (Paperback)
The book tells the fascinating story of the parachutists assassins dropped in to occupied Czechoslovakia and their target the truly evil Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. I knew nothing of the tragic history and it opened my eyes to another chapter of the Second World War. It was pleasing that the author chose to help us remember so many unsung heroes. However it was also one of the most irritating books I have ever read. After reading the plaudits of the critics I had to turn to Amazon to find some reviewers with opinions similar to my own just to check my sanity. The author gives a self-indulgent running commentary about his inner feelings, girlfriends, the difficulty of writing a historical novel ( I have no idea why he insists on calling the book a novel) and what each of the protagonists might be feeling at any given moment. It makes for painful reading which might be enjoyed by people who like reading blogs where the writer tells you he is about to light a cigarette. The back cover critics acclaim that the book is “casually postmodern”. Please give me modern or pre- modern any day.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An autobiographical biography, 15 July 2013
This review is from: HHhH (Paperback)
What annoyed me the most before reading this was that no one could tell me what type of book it was (novel/historical account etc). Having read it I can see why, and (like many other reviews here) can't pin down the genre, because there is nothing else like it.

The important thing is that no matter what the genre it is an amazing book. Original, gripping, meticulous in its historical accuracy (not one thing is made up apart from dialogues the author imagines where there are no accounts), it covers a fascinating topic that enhances and changes one's perspective of the Nazi regime. Binet's stream of consciousness is interesting and easy to read by its ability to drift into directionless meandering thoughts then suddenly being pulled back to the heart of the action in the 1930s and 40s Reich.

This book feels more like an interesting and memorable discussion that Binet is having with himself than a rigidly structured historical account of the Nazi's rise to power and Heydrich's role in that; more notepad than novel, you feel not only as if you've read the book but that you've written it with him.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, devastating, unbearable in parts, 12 May 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: HHhH (Paperback)
"How many forgotten heroes sleep in history's great cemetery?... Memory is of no use to the remembered, only to those who remember. We build ourselves with memory"

This is a brilliant, devastating book, almost unbearable in parts, that tells the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, and the courage of the Czech Resistance. What makes it, however, stand out from so many other stories of valour and defiance against Nazi totalitarianism is Binet's self-conscious struggle with how to tell this story while maintaining a respect for history and the real people contained within it, without reducing them to fictional characters in a novel. His solution, partial as it may be as he himself admits, is to make this into a novel about an author wrestling to write the story we are reading. It's not so much that this is metafiction (his story, after all, is true) but a form of metahistory that succeeds in challenging how we think about historical narrative.

The book, then, probes the way we can only ever access `history' through stories: not just previous books, but oral testaments, eye witness accounts, even primary documents none of which are ever neutral or without an agenda, even an unconscious one. Binet - or, rather, his unnamed narrator - draws playful attention to the way in which all narratives are forced to make choices of what to put in, what to leave out, so that they are always contingent and, necessarily, incomplete. At the same time, he evinces an unease about how far a writer can imagine what `really' happened, before that imagining becomes an untruth, a betrayal of the real people whose lives become subsumed in, and subsidiary to, the novel.

This is a book very much formed by a French post-war intellectual environment (Binet was born in 1972) and which is profoundly influenced by the writings of people like Derrida, Barthes (who gets a name-check at the end) and Foucault. It has a kind of Puck-like mischievous impishness at times that is very Gallic in tone but which manages to sit comfortably with the sometimes unbearable intensity of the story being told.

This feels like a book which could not have been written by an English author, that it springs from France's own not-forgotten history of Nazi Occupation and the French Resistance, the post-war struggle to accommodate collaboration, and the negotiations of the French Left to understand what it means to be a socialist republic while maintaining an independence from what was Russian communism.

But for all the intellectualism at work here, this isn't a cold or clever-clever book at all, and the heartfelt emotion seeps out especially towards the end: "worn-out by my muddled efforts to salute these people, I tremble with guilt at the thought of all those hundreds, those thousands, whom I have allowed to die in anonymity. But I want to believe that people exist even if we don't speak of them".

I read a lot but this is a truly stand-out piece of work - an unequivocal 5 stars.

ps. The assassination of Heydrich and the aftermath is treated very differently but just as movingly in The Visible World (2008) which is dedicated to 'the seven in the church'.
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64 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My review - by Laurent Binet, 18 Jan 2013
By 
Rough Diamond (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: HHhH (Paperback)
1
It is June 2008. You are in Prague. At the table next to you, on the terrace of the Two Brothers café in the Karlovo Namesti, sits Laurent Binet, typing earnestly into his Apple laptop. The late spring heat is oppressive, but the fatigue in Binet's brown eyes comes less from the weather than from the intensity of his effort. You observe as a bead of sweat trickles down Binet's forehead, before dripping from the tip of his nose onto the heavily annotated manuscript on which he appears to be working. Looking closer, you notice the manuscript is titled "HHhH". What can it mean??

2
Binet really does exist. A quick wiki search reveals that he was born 40 years ago in Paris and that "HHhH" is his first novel. I'm pretty sure he wrote at least some of it in Prague, and the picture I saw in the `Paris Match' colour supplement makes me think his eyes are probably brown. Or hazel, maybe. But I need to level with you. The scene in the first section of my review is pure invention. I have no idea whether Binet uses an Apple laptop. Did he ever edit his manuscript in the Two Brothers café? I have absolutely no idea.

3
"Look, don't get me wrong. It's OK, but Umberto Eco was doing this kind of stuff 30 years ago. It's tired, it's stale, it's old hat. Postmodernist narrative structures are so 1980s. Don't take it too hard: the 1942 part of the story is fine, but all that navel gazing about how you did your research? And your relationship with your girlfriend? Come on Laurent, who wants to read that kind of thing?"
This wasn't the reaction Binet had expected from his literary agent. Clearly the manuscript would need another redraft. He sets off crestfallen towards the Two Brothers café.

4
Carol, my wife, has just brought me a copy of `Hello' from July 2012, and there's a photo of Binet on page 32. Isn't it funny how, when you start to write about something, you suddenly find it everywhere? She's convinced Binet's eyes in the photo are in fact green. Green, brown, hazel... This is really starting to bug me now.

5
"HHhH" is a self-reflexive postmodern novel about a 1942 assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia. Parallel to this historical narrative runs the story of how the author, Laurent Binet, researched it, and the dilemmas he faced in trying to construct a novel that was truly faithful to his source material. In it, Binet constantly plays with our expectations as readers. There are no page numbers; there are 257 chapters, ranging in length from 20 pages to a single sentence; Binet blurs the boundary between past and present, and inserts himself into his own historical narrative. More subversively, time and again he uses our appetite for "the story" to show us how easily we can be manipulated by a text - a kind of narrative ju-jitsu that pulls the rug out from the reader's feet by hooking us into a story only to show us that the story is ultimately a fake. This technique in turn asks us broader questions about the interface between fiction and reality: how is possible to write history, let alone historical fiction, that truly conveys how `things really were'? Binet peels back the layers of this conundrum with a calm and neutral honesty, and with a seriousness that belies the playfulness of his narrative structure. Amazingly, there's tension, suspense and excitement not only in Binet's war story (and it's a great story, well told), but also in his more philosophical quest through the thickets of postmodern critical theory. It's a fascinating book, and well worth reading. Unquestionably deserving of five stars.

6
You know, I'm just not happy with section 4. I don't think I'll include it in my final review. I feel bad about giving my wife a false name. And anyway, you can't believe everything you see in `Hello', can you?

7
He is alone on the Champs Elysees, striding purposefully away from his agent's office. He has the winner's cheque for the Prix Goncourt in his pocket and, as the autumn sun glints in his blue eyes, he surrenders himself to a sensation of pure vindication. And, somewhere in Paris, I am there with him.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious retelling of a gripping story, 19 July 2014
By 
J. Lee "Jafar" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: HHhH (Kindle Edition)
Only readable if you are interested in Heydrich and his death. Amazing story all too often rendered vacuous by the irrelevant preoccupations of a tentative narrator. Many fascinating, chilling facts which keep you reading between the writer's bouts of self-absorption. The author accentuates his narcissism with repeated, empty protests of false humility. The intrusion of his political views might be forgiveable were they not so banal and predictable (the narrator is a leftist French teacher).The narrator drops names of famous authors to help you realise that this LITERATURE. More specifically, names like Kundera, Borges and Garcia Marquez drum home that we should be thinking MAGICAL REALISM and experimental fiction. Unfortunately the writing does not remotely approach its pretensions. Not even the narrator's professed love for Czechoslovakia/Prague is convincingly explained, beyond lists of buildings and the presence of lots of pretty girls. Read a straighter history of Heydrich instead.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars more a collage than a novel, 4 Jun 2014
By 
Susan Duncan "Bat" (Edinburgh Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: HHhH (Kindle Edition)
Maybe I could sit down and write about sitting in my Gran's house as the valves on her radio heated up and a man with an American accent said "the president was dead". I could tell the reader that my little cousin was about to be born, and my Gran's TV was one of those old 1950's boxes that only gave black and white pictures and my father insisted on putting on - as well as the radio. My Gran lived in a tenement near Clydebank. It was a murky November day when sunset happens at noon and the air is sprinkled with fine rain. As I grow up I talk to my parents about that day and what they remember about it. Was it the end of Pax Americana. And .....well to cut a long story short I could go on in this vein, do a bit if historical research, not trouble my imagination or attempt any sort of stylish prose and ....er win a prestigious French Literature Prize

Binet didn't even think up the gimmicky title - his agent did
This is rubbish
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read with some problems, 9 April 2014
This review is from: HHhH (Kindle Edition)
I found this book enjoyable, because I'm interested in German history of the period, am fond of Prague, and found the book to be very well researched and the author likeable. I also think that his questioning of the right of writers and film-makers blatantly to make up dialogue, or even change events, in supposedly historical works is commendable.

On the other hand, it is self-indulgent and too much about the author/narrator (in an interview, he insists that they are identical). In that sense, it is a product of the Facebook generation. It's even a bit puerile in places, with his irrelevant and very sketchily-drawn girlfriends.

By the way, it is not a novel. It the equivalent of a certain type of documentary film.
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HHhH by Laurent Binet (Paperback - 3 Jan 2013)
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