Customer Review

130 of 142 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So what exactly is a novel ?, 25 April 2012
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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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 May 2012 08:56:19 BDT
Rog. says:
Great review, thanks.

Posted on 9 Jun 2012 14:41:17 BDT
Chris Hilton says:
Good review. I wish I agreed. I'm close to giving up at 'section' 75 (pretentiously and annoyingly the book has no page numbers). There are some gems among the 'sections' but I found others unreadable and yet others impossible to follow without putting the book down and doing some historical research. After several readings I can still make no sense of section 64, particularly the first two paragraphs which appear entirely unconnected - I think the author uses alternative names without bothering to explain, causing the passage to lose any meaning. If it were not for the many reviews from writers and journalists heaping praise I would have given up fairly quickly. I keep wondering if I'm missing something - what exactly are they praising? How did a first book garner so many top reviews before publication anyway? It just isn't that good; it's not bad, but I don't look forward to picking it up - always a bad sign.

Posted on 14 Sep 2012 11:01:14 BDT
gt says:
brilliant book. Very different
a once in a life time experience.
I will read this book again and again
I loved it!

Posted on 28 Jan 2013 11:40:10 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 Jan 2013 11:40:39 GMT
J says:
I wish I'd read this review before impulsively one-click ordering the book just now because of my interest in the history, which spiked recently following a recent accidental second visit to the church where the 2 assassins and their colleagues died.
I would have thought twice or three times before clicking the buy button. Especially in light of Chris Hilton's comments here. It does sound suspiciously like the kind of half-baked and overpraised book (can happen in any genre) that I try to avoid, but have fallen for too many times before (egregious examples would include "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", or anything by Alain de Botton, Tibor Fischer or Irvine Welsh, film adaptations included - but there are zillions about).
And just to be clear, I'm not hostile to "post-modern techniques" per se, at all (I like Laurence Sterne as much as the next guy, say, Martin Amis, who blurbs this). But I'm getting cold feet about this. However, I've ordered it and will maybe report back.
Meanwhile, for anyone interested in Czechoslovakia in general, I thoroughly recommend "Czechoslovakia: the state that failed" by Mary Heimann.

Posted on 31 May 2013 23:19:08 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 1 Jun 2013 08:42:17 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Oct 2013 21:32:04 BDT
J.I.S. says:
I agree entirely - from the title to the lack of page numbers and endless rants over irrelevancies, this is the most pretentious book I've ever had the misfortune to read. It is neither a novel nor a history book, it is just tedious,
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