Day 1 at the Melbourne Writers Festival

As you’re probably aware I was in Melbourne for the last four days attending the Melbourne Writers Festival and visiting other landmarks around the city. This week is going to be dedicated to the sessions I attended, and a little bit more!

Over the following few weeks I will feature some of the shops, restaurants and other activities that I squeezed in between literary hopping but for now….

Day one at the Melbourne Writers festival was a busy day hopping from session to signing to session.

Laurent Binet and Michael Cathcart 'In Conversation' at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2013
Laurent Binet and Michael Cathcart ‘In Conversation’ at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2013

The first session was In conversation with Laurent Binet and Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily presenter, Michael Cathcart. Binet was billed as “one of the rising stars of French literature whose award winning novel HHhH about the assassination of Hitler’s henchman Reinhard Heydrich, was a global success and won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman.”

HHhH is Binet’s debut novel with the title being an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich based on a quip about Heydrich said to have circulated in Nazi Germany (“Himmler’s brain is referred to as Heydrich”).

Binet spoke about how he doesn’t believe in the idea of ‘novelistic truth’ but how he tries to aim for veracity.  A trained historian, he said HHhH is in essence an historical fiction that aims to tell the truth about Heydrich but he did concede that it was difficult at times to stick to the facts as he gave in to “contradiction to story-tell as well”. He said, “I broke my own rules and made up things” such as elaborating on characterisations, settings and events.

Influenced by the Surrealist poets and Milan Kundera, Binet often breaks the rules of what is expected from a novel as he attempted to make his book more “a conversation with the reader”. HHhH took ten years to write and was a complex process trying to organise the ‘chapters’. Whilst the book doesn’t display any real chapters or page numbers (a suggestion from his English publisher) Binet did try and organise the story in some kind of chronological order of events.

Binet said that he “likes to think of himself as part of a chain” where other people have told aspects of Heydrich’s story before him, there will also be others after, he is just another part of link in patching together the history.

His latest work, Nothing goes as planned, was inspired by Binet’s love of the US Political drama The West Wing and is similarly a behind-the-scenes look at politics, in this case the recent French Presidential campaign.

Laurent Binet
Laurent Binet

The softly spoken Binet was charming, and spent time chatting with people afterwards at the book-signing table. I’m really looking forward to reading HHhH that focuses on the attempted assassination of Heydrich by two Czechs, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, and that exposes a man who personifies the Nazi ideals.
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Pop back tomorrow to hear about the second session I attended All Made Up with Janice Galloway talking with Meg Mundell.

Ps. Sorry for any dodgy photos this week – let’s just say that age is getting the better of my eyesight and also trying not to use a flash makes for some not-so-perfect images!

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