Research Monographs in French Studies 64 will be The Holocaust in French Postmodern Fiction: Aesthetics, Politics, Ethics, by Helena Duffy. Whatever one thinks about the mass of novels written about the Holocaust — a healthy sign of our healing process? fine provided it's done with good taste? or, in Adorno's often-misquoted words, an act of barbarism? — those novels exist. And just as the poetry of Auschwitz breaks down traditional lyrical structures (consider Celan's Death Fugue, for example), so the novels of Auschwitz have eroded traditional forms of narration. Ethically, this is all a very narrow line to tread. Authors in English have mostly not gone there.
But then, England was not as close to the Holocaust as France. Jewish people were not deported to their deaths from every English town and village, processed and docketed by English civil servants through English transit camps, then killed. Our English novels about the Third Reich are mostly, at some level, spy-thrillers or what-if hypotheticals. That may not be so true in France. Consider, for example, Laurent Binet's 2010 classic HHhH. This book covers the same ground as at least ten movies in that it describes the assassination of Heydrich, so it could plausibly have been a hard-boiled thriller. But Binet does not want to fictionalise a figure like Heydrich, to put words in his mouth or emotions in his heart, and in certain ways Binet does not want to write a novel at all. (Though a cynic may observe that he is happy enough to win the Prix Goncourt for the result.) Binet, instead, describes HHhH as an 'infranovel', a supposedly new literary form, and one in which extremities have compelled him to deploy postmodern forms of story-telling. 'HHhH', for example, is a very postmodern sort of book title.
And so the infranovel is a part of our literary world now. It did not start with Binet, and goes far beyond him, as Helena's important new study shows us.
The Holocaust in French Postmodern Fiction is due out in our Research Monographs in French Studies series in 2022.