Home > 21st Century, Abandoned books, French Literature, Schmitt Eric-Emmanuel > My own alternative hypothesis : don’t read it

My own alternative hypothesis : don’t read it

A friend, whose opinion I value, lent me La Part de l’autre (The Alternative Hypothesis), by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt saying it was a good book. It is about what would have happened if Hitler had been admitted in Vienne Art School in 1908 instead of failing to get in.

I was reluctant to read it because of the subject. I had already read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, which has a similar plot and I doubted Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt could do better. Moreover, I kind of get tired of stories taking place during WWII.

 I started it anyway.

 The book is constructed with parallel stories: Hitler’s story (the real one) and Adolf H’s story, the one in which Hitler becomes an art student. Chapters alternate from one story to the other. The style is tolerable, obviously not a breakthrough in literature.

 I decided to quit reading it when young Adolf H faints at school any time he needs to draw a naked woman and when his physician, Dr Bloch (!!), takes him an appointment with Dr Freud. That was too much.

 I reminded me why I seldom read French present-day writers: they are often a disappointment. Either the subject is centred on their own petty dramas (The “Me, Myself and I” writers) or it’s so dreary or depressing you think they want to create a suicide wave among their readers.

 As far as The Alternative Hypothesis is concerned, it is definitely a book to avoid, to my point of view.

  1. June 17, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Putting Freud in there is just clumsy.

    The only novel of this sort I’ve heard good reports of is Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, which I own but haven’t read yet. Generally though it’s not even an interesting premise, it’s too obvious to be interesting.


    • June 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

      The Plot Against America is good too. I’ve never heard of Norman Spinrad, I’ll check that.


  2. July 23, 2010 at 1:03 am

    I’m not big on alternate history stories.


  3. January 16, 2016 at 5:59 am

    I finished the whole book and I’m telling you one thing, this book IS good. You didn’t even finish the book and decide to down rate it? It would’ve been acceptable if you had actually finished it, because trust me, it goes a long way. The fainting thing seems like a lot, but no. Trust me, so much happens after that that Adolf fainting doesn’t even matter.

    When you’re at around the second part, Adolf needing to go visit Sigmund Freud and him having to admit his fear of his abusive father is long gone because so much more happens.

    At first, I admit that I didn’t appreciate it much. Heck, I found it quite stupid. But the more you read, the more the book captivates you and that’s something not all authors can do. ‘

    May I also remind you of how you’re generalizing books of one language? I read the French one, mind you, I don’t know how the English one is, although I’m pretty sure there’s no difference. Again, French can be a complex language. At least finish a book before reviewing it, or else it almost makes all your arguments pointless because someone that fully read it/understood it has so much to point out.


    • January 16, 2016 at 9:40 am


      Thank you for your comment.

      I have been honest in this review: I said I didn’t finish the book, not because I didn’t have time to finish it but because it got so much on my nerves that I abandoned it. Your description of the second part doesn’t help: I still think that putting Freud in the story and going in that direction is over the top. It’s fantasy land, speculations and Hitler’s atrocities is too serious a subject to go there.

      As far as alternative stories go, it can’t compare to The Plot Against America. Roth’s style and depth of thoughts are superior.

      Thank you for reminding me the beauty and the complexity of my NATIVE language (yeah, I’m French, read my About page. I should be flattered (or disheartened?) that you didn’t notice that this “review” was not written by a native English speaker.)

      There are marvellous books in French literature but there’s a tendency to write self-centered Parisian books that I dislike. My billets about French literature are filed under … “French Literature”. Easy

      I don’t write reviews of books. I write billets. I write my thoughts about the books I read, I’m not a professional literary critic and I don’t pretend to be one. As this blog is my reading journal, I always write about the books I abandoned because it’s interesting to me to understand why this book didn’t work for me.


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Glob
    June 8, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Hi there,

    I guess I get why one would be put off by Schmitt’s style and I must admit that the first book I read from him (Les Deux Messieurs de Bruxelles) gave me the weird feeling of being too intimate with his characters. Probably an author I would not have enjoyed when I was younger and less experienced with life (I know that sounds pretentious, but I’ll leave it).

    Anyway, I read this one (in french) because I was told it was good and because I was intrigued by the other book.

    Conclusion, I loved it and it’s probably my best read of 2016. What I found weird with Schmitt when i first discovered him is what I find fascinating now; his ability to make you feel so close to the characters.

    Now on this very specific subject, it’s so interesting that one would describe the book as “alternative history”!

    To me this part is just a mean to justify a much denser work that is all about giving a stereoscopic vision of one’s personality (and in this case, what a choice of subject to study).

    I thought that would be obvious from the (french) name of the book (!) and the structure of the chapters but after all, we all have different understandings. And tastes (I don’t know exactly what it means that Philip Roth’s style and depth is superior but I do remember vividly the Plot Against America as being both disappointing and boring – not that I really enjoyed the Human Stain either but at the time I had an excuse, I was stuck on a boat!)


    • June 8, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks for commenting.

      I can understand that you enjoyed this novel. It does have good critics.

      I was put off by what I thought was cheap psychological explanations of history.

      Not everybody enjoys Philip Roth. I love him, so I’m biaised. I find him superior to Schmitt in his analytical approach to things. That’s only my opinion, for what it’s worth and not more.


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