The text on the back of Laurent Binet's debut book states: When you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up?
The book's title is an abbreviation of Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich), and tells the true story of a World War 2 operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo.
Lauren Binet takes a very unconventional approach to writing this by starting off talking about how he got interested in the story and the research he's doing into it, and the narrative is constantly intercut with Binet's comments about his research and his own personal feelings about what he is finding out.
The story that Binet tells starts off with him imagining Heydrich's childhood and what it must have been for him growing up before talking about the growth of the third reich and his place in it, talking about real events, but also speculating on how he imagines events taking place. At times the narrative gets quite harrowing, mostly because it talks about how Adolf Hitler ordered the killings of Jewish people in the concentration camps, though strangely there are a few moments that are quite amusing, not only because at times he portrays Heydrich as being somewhat daft, including a comment that he changed his first name to "Reinhardt" because it made him sound harder.
As the story progresses, he tells of how two Czechoslovakians were assigned with the task of assassinating Heydrich, and what happened. I noticed towards the end that Binet imagines that he is actually in the middle of the action, going as far as describing himself as limping along after a bomb blast at one point.
The book was translated by Sam Taylor from the original French, and I found this to be very compelling and that I wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. Overall, this is a fantastic debut novel for Laurent Binet.
Next book: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett