HHhH may be one of the most intriguing novels I have read in recent memory. Translated from French, its title is based on a German sentence: “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich”, or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”. It is the story of the 1942 attack in Prague on Reinhard Heydrich, one of the most dangerous men in the Hitler’s inner circle, if not in all of Nazi Germany, and one of the main architects of the “Final Solution,” the Holocaust. Known variously as “the Butcher of Prague” by those who feared him and “the man with the iron heart” by Hitler, Heydrich was a dangerous, evil man.
But Binet’s novel, cleverly if awkwardly named, is something more, and something different. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that the novel is as much about Binet’s obsession with the attack, the Czech and Slovak heroes Jozef Gabćik and Jan Kubiš who carried it out, and its central villain, Heydrich himself. I have heard the writing of a novel described as requiring a certain level of insanity and obsession, and Binet demonstrates a level of intense scrutiny that could match this description.
Almost pageant like, his unconventional style puts him in the middle of the book, a narrator that at times reminded me of the Chorus in the Prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V, eager to be both in the scene and to describe it. Indeed, we move with him as he tells the story, quibbling over what details to include, what to exclude, how to tell the scene, and what were the characters really thinking. For, after all, the characters lived, were real, and the events described happened.
Strange and unconventional, but oddly gripping and thrilling, even as it ends tragic and triumphant. For the end of the story is not a secret–you can find the facts of the tale on Wikipedia. But the imagination with which Binet approaches his subject, the path his obsession takes, is worth hearing it told in his voice. “O for a Muse of fire[…]”