This is a decidedly positive review, and it provides some extra-literary info that I was not aware of:
American spy author Robert, it was an entirely unexpected success.
Gallimard, the publisher, originally printed 5,000 copies. Within
months, Les Bienveillantes had sold 300,000 copies, had been welcomed
by critics as the most important book for 50 years and had won the
Goncourt and Femina prizes. Stupendous sums were paid for its foreign
rights and it went on to sell more than a million copies across Europe. . . .
What accounts for the attention? A 900-page work written in impeccable
French by an American, albeit one educated in France, was always going
to be talked about. But the main reason for the book's notoriety is its
subject matter. The novel tells the story of the Holocaust and Nazism
through the eyes of one of the executioners, an SS Obersturmbannfürher
on the Eastern Front who is attached to the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile
execution squads whose task it was to kill Jews, partisans and other
"undesirables" in the wake of the German advance.
The reviewer goes on to praise Littell's meticulous research (5 years) and "photo-realism" detail, making me wonder if a good reference point would be William T. Vollmann's Europe Central, a book that blends surreal elements with large stretches of very detailed descriptions of World War II battlefronts.
And Stephen Mitchelmore opines that Burke missed the point of the book, although doesn't elaborate as to how.