X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

The courage of their convictions

12 May 2012

10:00 AM

12 May 2012

10:00 AM

HHhH by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor

Harvill Secker, pp.336, 16.99

HHhH is a prize-winning French novel about a writer writing a novel about the plot to kill the Gestapo boss Reinhard Heydrich. A lot of people reckon it’s a big deal — Martin Amis, Mario Vargas Llosa, me — so naturally there’s a backlash afoot. In a fit of territorial pissing disguised as an interview, Michael Burleigh revealed that Laurent Binet ‘does not even read German’ (which HHhH admits on page 28) and professed surprise that his research failed to take in a Heydrich biography published (as Burleigh didn’t say) almost two years after HHhH first came out.

I suppose part of the problem is that Binet asks for trouble with clever-dick lines like this one: ‘This scene is not really useful, and on top of that I practically made it up. I don’t think I’m going to keep it.’ HHhH has two stories to tell in this self-aware style. One (pure horror) shows how Heydrich rose to viceroy in what was Czechoslovakia. The other (lionhearted derring-do) describes the patient tooling-up of the offshore resistance movement that sent Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš to assassinate, against almost impossible odds, the heavily guarded Heydrich as he drove through Prague on 27 May 1942. Binet reconstructs these events with help from memoirs, photographs, movies, museum exhibits — and his own speculation, at which his lover is ever ready to scoff. It’s fresh, honest and exciting.


Read it in French if you can. This translation changes Simone Veil to Simone Weil, Tunis to Tunisia, and Birmingham to Stoke-on-Trent. Binet’s half-brother becomes a brother-in-law. Heydrich says 36 Jews were murdered on Kristallnacht, one more than stated previously. There are cuts as well as slips. Our presumed ignorance or impatience may account for lost lines about, say, medieval Bohemia; but why does Heydrich no longer vow to shove his deputy into a mass grave? Why no nod to his ‘air of competence and authority’ as he announces a plan to deport Czechs to Auschwitz?Is it so that we don’t think Binet’s a Nazi?

Far better to have HHhH in English than not at all, of course, yet more could have been preserved, in terms of tone as well as detail. ‘You might wish to remember this. It turns out to be important,’ writes Anglo-Binet, after he mentions for the first time Gabcik’s ‘shit’ British machine gun (‘une vraie merde’), the shitness of which proves crucial. The parallel line is ‘Une vraie merde, tiens donc…’ (‘A piece of shit, fancy…’), i.e. more of a wink than a finger-wag. The French expects you to know the story already; the English worries you won’t keep up.

A finger-wagging tendency is latent here, to be fair. The second world war was ‘another age — one where, each day, people eagerly look forward not to sports results but to news from the Russian front’. Of Vichy, Binet asks, ‘How many World Cups will we have to win in order to erase such a stain?’ You would never guess that he used to be a schoolteacher.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close