Last month, I read the two historical novels Het pauperparadijs by Suzanna Jansen and HhhH by Laurent Binet. Two very different books that I had very different expectations of as well.
Het pauperparadijs is about the Dutch punitive colony Veenhuizen in Drenthe and the effect that a history in Veenhuizen has on a family for generations afterwards. Jansen is a journalist and the story is about her own family. Her story isn’t really romanticed, she tells a lot about her research and the things she is insecure about. At first it took me some time to get used to this style, because I had expected more of a novel, a fiction. Nonetheless, this book was very engaging and I finished it within 24 hours.
HhhH is about the nazi leader Heydrich and an attack that was made on his life in Prague in 1942. It is the first book by Binet that I’ve read but I had some expectations from his reputation as a postmodern writer. The book is also advertised as a play with fiction, where the author plays an interesting game with the facts.
In my opinion, Binet just does the same thing as Jansen, just with a lot more arrogance. He explains about his own research and how he sometimes doubt how to portray a certain scene – just as Jansen does, and countless other writers of journalistic, historical novels. That’s just part of the process, of taking responsibility of the way you deal with your sources. So I don’t blame Binet for doing that, but I do blame him for constantly being to incredibly arrogant about it. It’s a lot of “look at me, I’m reflecting on the nature of fiction!”
And besides that, Binet finds it necessary to constantly comment on fat characters being fat (often in a way that is supposed to make them less likeable, like a nazi needs to be less likeable because of their appearance and not just because of, well, killing six million Jewish people). He just seems like a very shallow man to me.