If I want to learn how horrible the Holocaust was, a non-fiction account will do just fine. The truth is horrible enough; it does not need to be fictionalized or embellished to make it even worse. Sadly, true accounts of human cruelty abound; even more sadly, they are outnumbered by the actual incidences of human cruelty. These accounts form a genre unto themselves, that must be studied if we are ever to understand how people came to perpetrate such crimes on others. The question of the nature of evil, and how ordinary people can be swept into promulgating evil, is not only fascinating but also morally necessary to confront. I would never advocate avoiding difficult subjects in books on either moral or aesthetic grounds. But a fictional account of great violence must meet a different standard; we do not read fiction to learn things, in the sense of what happened when. Fiction tells us something different; in this case, maybe what it felt like to live through a horrible time, or what it might have felt like to inflict suffering during that time, or how a mind can grow so twisted it could rationalize doing so. So I would hope The Kindly Ones does provide something that is not available in a historical account of the Holocaust (although how the author could imagine his way into the mind of a sadistic former Nazi SS officer is a big question mark), and I'm curious to know what that something is, in an academic sense.
I'm not a squeamish reader; in fact, I rather like dark, disturbing fiction, and have read some pretty disturbing non-fiction as well (The Rape of Nanking, for example). I have no problem in general reading graphic descriptions of violence and sex. I'm not objecting on prudish grounds; I just don't see myself sacrificing what little time I have to read to this book. If somehow someday I finish my entire to-read list and have absolutely nothing left to read, I might read it, and then maybe I'll figure out what its raison d'etre is. But if that ever happens, I'll check it out of the library.
P.S. I'm quite peeved at Barnes & Noble for misspelling Jayne Anne Phillips' name, and thereby making me misspell it in a previous post. As soon as I looked at the cover of her book Lark and Termite, I noticed that indeed there is an "e" at the end of Anne. Never trust a big chain store.