Book review: HHhH

A while back I finished reading Laurent Binet’s HHhH (or HhhH in Dutch). The title refers to the German phrase Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich: Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich. To summarize this review: I loved it!

What makes the book special is that it has two layers. The first layer is the actual story of Heydrich and, more specifically, the resistance’s attempt to murder him. The second layer is that of the author, Binet, writing the book, investigating historic events, and deciding which parts to include or leave out. It takes perhaps a couple of pages to get used to the fact that these two layers are mixed, but I really liked it (at the same time, I can imagine that others might hate the book because of it).

The book consists of many short chapters. These can be as short as a couple of sentences, and span up to a couple of pages. The point of these chapters is to distinguish between the two layers. So you could have two paragraphs telling the story of Heydrich visiting Himmler in his offices, including what both men are wearing and what their facial expressions are, followed by a new chapter in which Binet explains that he really cannot know what they were wearing or whether someone’s face turned red. Should he include the previous chapter? What is the added value of it? Does he do harm to history if they actually wore different clothes? The book is filled with these kinds of discussions. At other times, Binet would explain how he visited particular sites to get information, or how the information he found compares to older books or movies about the same story of Heydrich.

Besides the unexpected way of telling the story, the story itself is very compelling. The “Binet-layer” did not distract me from the actual story about the rise of Heydrich and the preparations of the murder attempt. Binet managed to leave me on the edge of my seat for most of the time, wanting to know what was gonna happen next. It made that I finished the book in no-time.

Anyway. Buy it. Read it. Love it.