I am still officially on hiatus, but when I read James Wood’s review of HHhH, a new postmodern historical novel by Laurent Binet, in The New Yorker, I had to post about it. Binet’s novel, which revolves around the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the intelligence service of S.S. in Nazi Germany during WWII.
Binet does not use invented characters, and has asserted that the narrator is not, in fact, a character, but himself. This is significant because throughout the novel, the narrator discusses the fictional techniques the author is using to tell the story. Wood describes this all in much greater detail, and also contrasts Binet’s (ultimately shallow, he contends) use of these techniques with those in W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, another self-aware historical set during WWII.
Basically, it seems to me that HHhH is one of those incredibly pretentious postmodern novels that make me roll my eyes. Like the trashy romance novels of postmodernism. (Not that there’s anything wrong with trashy romance novels–except, wait, yes, there is, because most of them rely on horrible sexist stereotypes and cultural norms that are borderline offensive.)
I love weird writing. And of course postmodernism is a hotbed of weird stuff. But I can’t stand weirdness for the sake of weirdness, weirdness that screams LOOK AT ME, I’M DIFFERENT AND SMART. I love weird writing that actually says something new and important about the world we live in. The reason I love postmodernism and metafiction so much is because they give us a way to fight against those hurtful, painful cultural norms that constrict us and force us to be things other than who we really are, who we really want to be.
Based on Woods’s review, and his quoting of certain glib passages from Binet’s novel, it sounds like HHhH, at best, highlights silly fictional techniques, and at worst, makes light of horrible tragedies to prove how smart he is. I think this is a novel I’ll skip.