U.S. author's Holocaust novel splits French critics

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The fictional memoirs of a Nazi SS officer written in French by an American are in line to win the top French literary prize but critics are split over whether the novel is a new War and Peace or a piece of tasteless historical voyeurism.

"Les Bienveillantes" ("The Kindly Ones") by Jonathan Littell has been hailed as"the phenomenon of the literary season", selling over 200,000 copies and attracting the kind of reviews that most writers can only dream of.

Littell, 39, has been compared to the great Russian writers Tolstoy and Vassily Grossmann by critics weary of the minimalist style of many French novels and praised for an epic sweep not seen since the days of Victor Hugo.

"Les Bienveillantes" tells the story of Maximilian Aue, a former SS official who recounts his career at the heart of the Nazi Holocaust in a tone of philosophical detachment that contrasts sharply with the horrors he was involved in."I regret nothing. I did my job, that's all," he says.

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