Book of a lifetime: Maus, By Art Spiegelman
Friday 25 January 2013
In 1987, when I was 15, I read Maus by Art Spiegelman and, like everyone else, I found it brilliant: telling via a comic strip the story of his father, deported to Auschwitz, with the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice. For the first time, I heard people talk about the "graphic novel".
This pompous term, which at bottom only means a comic-strip for adults with higher-than-average artistic ambitions, conceals the essential thing about Maus: that it's at the same time a "non-fiction novel" and a "meta-novel". In fact, even if I didn't then realise it, that was what I found brilliant: to tell a true story and to tell the circumstances of its reconstruction; to alternate the story of his father, young in 1940, with autobiographical sequences in which the author stages his interviews with his father in old age.
I took ten years to write HHhH, during which time I read hundreds of books about the Second World War - studies, novels, testimonies. In HHhH, I cite dozens of books and films, but not Maus. I recount the attack on Heydrich in Prague in 1942 and, at the same time, I recount my researches, my doubts, my hesitations - a whole methodological investigation into the best way to tell a true story.
At the time, I was almost convinced that I'd invented a new genre and I formed the concept of the "infra-roman" (a narrative that resorts to all the techniques of the novel, except fiction). But anglo-saxon journalists made me aware that there already was a term in English for that: the "non-fiction novel". They cited In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Except that, in his novel, Capote says nothing about his inquiries. It doesn't have the "meta-novel" dimension.
When I was asked if I had models, I didn't quite know what to say: I love Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman, but it's an old-fashioned novel, a kind of War and Peace at Stalingrad. More and more journalists suggested, to my great pleasure, that I might indeed have invented a new literary genre. And then one day, I realised: no, my brilliant device, this mixture of "non-fiction" and "meta-fiction", repeats very precisely that of Maus. Perhaps, without Art Spiegelman, I could have been been considered the effective inventor of a new genre. Except that, without Art Spiegelman, I couldn't have written HHhH.
Laurent Binet's novel 'HHhH' is published in paperback by Vintage
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 2 Japanese plant experts produce 10,000 lettuce heads a day in LED-lit indoor farm
- 3 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’