Munich is about the 1938 Munich Conference and I found it absolutely fascinating as I know very little about the period beyond the basic facts – PM Neville Chamberlain was trying to maintain the peace in the face of Hitler’s aims to expand German territory (but I was a bit vague about the actual details) and in 1938 came back from the Munich conference with a piece of paper signed by Hitler, proclaiming that it meant ‘peace for our time‘.
Munich is a mix of fact and fiction. Harris uses two fictional characters, Hugh Legat as one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and Paul Hartmann, a German diplomat and a member of the anti-Hitler resistance to tell his story. Harris’ interest in the Munich Agreement began thirty years ago when he made a BBC TV documentary, ‘God Bless You Mr Chamberlain’ to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conference in 1988. He has thoroughly researched the subject, consulting many books (listed in the Acknowledgements) and has seamlessly woven the facts into the novel. It has a a strong sense of place, based no doubt on his visits to what was once the Führerbau, now the Faculty of Music and Theatre and Hitler’s old apartment in Prinzregentenplatz, now used as a police headquarters.
Munich explores the moral dilemma of appeasement, and of making a stand. It portrays Chamberlain as a man of high moral principals, deeply concerned that the horrors of World War One should not be repeated and not as a weak appeaser easily fooled by Hitler. His objective was:
… to avert war in the short term, and then to try to build a lasting peace for the future – one month, one day at a time, if needs be. The worst act I could possibly commit for the future of mankind would be to walk away from this conference tonight. (page 267)
Reading this book has made me want to know more about Neville Chamberlain and I hope to read one of the biographies that Harris lists.
The fictional story of Hugh and Paul, who had been friends at university six years earlier adds additional tension and drama to the already tense story of the Munich conference. As in his earlier books Harris has captured the atmosphere and mood of the times, making me feel as though I’m there with the characters taking part in the action. The key characters are seen through Hugh’s and Paul’s perspectives – Chamberlain and Hitler – and others such as Mussolini, Goering and the other British politicians who travelled with Chamberlain to Munich. Among the later was Lord Dunglass, described by one of Chamberlain’s secretaries as ‘one of the cleverest politicians she had ever encountered‘; she considered that he would ‘be Prime Minister one day‘. At the time it was inconceivable that a premier could sit in the House of Lords and her prediction was dismissed. However, Dunglass went on to inherit his father’s title and become the 14th Earl of Home and as Sir Alec-Douglas-Home (renouncing his peerage) he did indeed become Prime Minister.
I really like Harris’ straight forward writing style with no flashbacks, fly forwards or ambiguities. I learned a lot from this book and as far as I can tell (as I said I don’t know much about the period) it is an accurate version of what happened at Munich. It is a dramatic story well told – definitely a 5* book!
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Hutchinson; 01 edition (21 Sept. 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0091959195
- ISBN-13: 978-0091959197
- Source: Library book
- My rating: 5*
9 thoughts on “Munich by Robert Harris”
Glad you to hear you enjoyed this one, Margaret. I think it’s sometimes difficult to tell a fictional story like this against a fact-based background. It’s not always easy to strike that balance. It’s good to hear that you felt Harris did.
I have found myself at times thinking that a straightforward, chronological writing style is somehow ‘simpler’ for the author to produce, and that the resulting book is therefore a lesser work. At the same time I have found myself acknowledging how much I’ve enjoyed the tale. When I reflect properly though – away from whatever I happen to be reading – I wonder if it isn’t one of the more challenging writing styles. We are offered so many flashbacks and complexities in most books these days that perhaps it may be more difficult to hold our attention with a ‘straightforward’ story. It sounds like Harris has woven a seamless mix of fact and fiction here. He’s not an enduring bestselling author for nothing! (And I really must give him a try!)
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I always think it’s a mark of a good historical novel that it makes you want to discover more about the period or the key figures
I agree. If a historical novel sends you to research, that’s a good one. I’m very interested in what you’ve shared here. Don’t know if this is one I’d pick in the near future, but I will definitely keep it in mind for later.
I’ve had this book on my TBR since just after it was published last year and have been waiting for the right time to read it. I loved most of the other Robert Harris books I’ve read, so I have high hopes for this one and your review has made me determined to get to it as soon as possible!
This is definitely one for me. I checked our library to see what they had by him but they only had one or two and neither was anything you’ve recommended. Will check again next time or go and visit another library at some stage… haven’t done that in ages.
I loved this one too – he’s such a great storyteller, he really brings the people and events to life. I actually found the added-on fictional story a bit unnecessary – I’d have been quite happy just to read about the actual events. And he made me interested in knowing more about poor, maligned Chamberlain too…
I’ve enjoyed some of Robert Harris’s other books, such as Pompeii. He is a great story teller and does his research, so I shall definitely put this on my tbr list. I have always felt that history was a bit hard on Chamberlain, and that he was trying to avert war, so it will be good to read a detailed account of the negotiations.
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I tend to like Robert Harris’s books, and I think I would really like this one for many of the same reasons you did. I am really getting tired of the jumping around narratives that are so common lately, and looking forward to a more straightforward approach. I also think I would like the blending of the fictional story with the factual recounting. Excellent review.
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