For David Kowalski: I just wrote a long review of HHhH
, mainly for you... and then goodreads ate it. Fuck. No way am I going to be that thorough again.
I am not sure you'll like it. The stuff on Heydrich's assassination is quite compelling, and I like the method of the telling in many ways--lots of quotes, chapters that noodle about all kinds of elements of the history (biographies of various folks, geopolitical assessments, military assessment, essays on ideology)... but it is also frustratingly undergraduate in its approach to these complexities. All kinds of hand-wringing about the poor author trying to do justice to history, about other writers... as if there hasn't been a long, fascinating debate about the problems of historiography -- or as if there haven't been historical works this intriguingly complicated, this "meta-," so knotted around the interplay of event and context and form. (See, e.g., Hayden White, Natalie Zemon Davis, Carlo Ginzburg.) Binet frequently mentions Kundera--the book opens with a quote and discusison of one of his works--and there's none of that writer's casual, confident calm in mixing essayistic riffs, authorial intrusion, narrative chicanery, and the meat 'n' potatoes of character and desire and affect and plot.
Or maybe what's most frustrating is that there is NO interplay between formal anxiety/play and the subject at hand. What a fascinating book might do is, as in the work of the historians noted above, make the problem of history come alive through the particular dense compelling history at hand--and vice versa. If you are less familiar with Heydrich or the mechanics of the Czech resistance, it is indeed compelling stuff, and particularly at the novel's close the force of the telling has been greatly enhanced by the anxieties and pointillist detail of the whole. But the negotiation of the complexities comes off as narcissism more than technique.