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My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir

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An unsparingly truthful account of love, betrayal, and the traps we set for ourselves, by France's master of psychological suspense In work after work, the critically acclaimed author Emmanuel Carrere has trained his unblinking gaze on the lives of others as they fight a losing battle with that most fearsome of adversaries--the self. Now, determined to escape the bleak visi An unsparingly truthful account of love, betrayal, and the traps we set for ourselves, by France's master of psychological suspense In work after work, the critically acclaimed author Emmanuel Carrere has trained his unblinking gaze on the lives of others as they fight a losing battle with that most fearsome of adversaries--the self. Now, determined to escape the bleak visions of his narratives, he takes on a film project in the heart of Russia while also embarking on a new love affair back home in Paris. But soon enough, the diversion he seeks eludes him, intimacy proves too arduous, and Carrv(R)re is left peering into the dark mirror of his own life. Set in Paris and Kotelnich, a small post-Soviet town, "My Life as a Russian Novel" traces Carrere's pursuit of two obsessions--the disappearance of his Russian grandfather and his erotic fascination with a woman he loves but cannot keep from destroying. In prose that is elegant and passionate, Carrere weaves the strands of his story into a travelogue of a journey inward. Road trip, confession, erotic tour de force--this fearless reckoning illuminates the schemes we devise to evade ourselves and the inevitable payment they exact.


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An unsparingly truthful account of love, betrayal, and the traps we set for ourselves, by France's master of psychological suspense In work after work, the critically acclaimed author Emmanuel Carrere has trained his unblinking gaze on the lives of others as they fight a losing battle with that most fearsome of adversaries--the self. Now, determined to escape the bleak visi An unsparingly truthful account of love, betrayal, and the traps we set for ourselves, by France's master of psychological suspense In work after work, the critically acclaimed author Emmanuel Carrere has trained his unblinking gaze on the lives of others as they fight a losing battle with that most fearsome of adversaries--the self. Now, determined to escape the bleak visions of his narratives, he takes on a film project in the heart of Russia while also embarking on a new love affair back home in Paris. But soon enough, the diversion he seeks eludes him, intimacy proves too arduous, and Carrv(R)re is left peering into the dark mirror of his own life. Set in Paris and Kotelnich, a small post-Soviet town, "My Life as a Russian Novel" traces Carrere's pursuit of two obsessions--the disappearance of his Russian grandfather and his erotic fascination with a woman he loves but cannot keep from destroying. In prose that is elegant and passionate, Carrere weaves the strands of his story into a travelogue of a journey inward. Road trip, confession, erotic tour de force--this fearless reckoning illuminates the schemes we devise to evade ourselves and the inevitable payment they exact.

30 review for My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Semi-disastrous structurally, but with enough good writing and Carrere-style free-associative confession/analysis to keep me going. This is by far the weakest of his hybrid non-fiction works that I've read (I adored THE KINGDOM and thought THE ADVERSARY was gripping), and the problem is essentially one of balance: the most interesting thing in the book is the opening - a Hungarian man has been locked in a Russian sanitarium for 50 years; the second most interesting plot is Carrere's grandfather, Semi-disastrous structurally, but with enough good writing and Carrere-style free-associative confession/analysis to keep me going. This is by far the weakest of his hybrid non-fiction works that I've read (I adored THE KINGDOM and thought THE ADVERSARY was gripping), and the problem is essentially one of balance: the most interesting thing in the book is the opening - a Hungarian man has been locked in a Russian sanitarium for 50 years; the second most interesting plot is Carrere's grandfather, a borderline madman who collaborated with the Germans; third is his too-repetitive relationship with his new lover; fourth is his exploration of the doings of a small town in Russia. But of course, we spend the most time in the latter two, without ever finding out about that prisoner. There is an interpolated pornographic sequence that creates some meta-textual interest (the story was published in a French newspaper, and is a dream of a day in the future with his partner. It's a good suspense beat to compare it to what actually happens in reality on that day, and since I find myself rooting against Carrere's claims of sexual prowess when I read his books, the ensuing nightmare is fun), and he's too good a writer for me to consider putting one of his books down, but I'd only read this if you've read his others first. I'm going to argue against the title too. It's more a cliche of a trashy French novel, this one.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    It is kind of hard to separate the bad things about the book from my negative opinion of the author (which came from reading the book), but I guess I'll just go for it. This guy is a self-absorbed narcissist. Maybe if he were a better writer he could have made himself seem more likable. I appreciate that he was being honest about his insecurities, but really he just came off as whiney. And SO SELF-ABSORBED. He seems to recognize that he didn't actually participate in making the documentary about It is kind of hard to separate the bad things about the book from my negative opinion of the author (which came from reading the book), but I guess I'll just go for it. This guy is a self-absorbed narcissist. Maybe if he were a better writer he could have made himself seem more likable. I appreciate that he was being honest about his insecurities, but really he just came off as whiney. And SO SELF-ABSORBED. He seems to recognize that he didn't actually participate in making the documentary about the town (he leaves that to his crew), but you never *quite* know if he knows that. It's more like "poor me, I was so sad and focused on myself and my own thoughts! POOOR MEEEEE!" He will describe his actions and his feelings without seeming to have any grasp of the *meaning* of any of it or how *other* people would interpret/react to the actions/feelings. I actually skipped over a chunk in the middle of the book about the Russian town he was visiting (it was boring) to find out what happened with him and Sophie. I went back to the Russian part later and skimmed it - still boring. Lots of people manage to write about mundane topics in an *interesting way*, but he didn't pull it off. The part about the letter on the train - I didn't find the letter sexy at all. I think he was being grandiose and delusional to think Sophie would find it sexy. He called it a declaration of his love for her, but again it was all about HIM. *His* coming to terms with loving her. HIM wanting to write something epic and noticed by a lot of people. His "gift" to her was pretty much 100% about himself and his own needs and wants, and he doesn't seem to recognize it. (If he does recognize it, that did not come across in his writing.) The whole part where he is recounting his breakup with Sophie he seems to be recounting exactly what she *said* during the end of their relationship (and the horrible, emotionally and verbally abusive things he said/did), but you can't quite tell if he *understood* her meaning or empathized with her in any way or actually considered her feelings about *anything*. Later he mentions meticulously writing down their conversations, so I think in the end the answer is that he has no idea how awful he is or why she was unhappy with the relationship. He just wrote down the words that she said in a book without really understanding what they meant. He recounts her affair as if he sincerely believes the reader is going to be like, "Wow, Sophie sucks for doing that to poor Emmanuel!" Nope. He was horrible to this woman, she seems to have tried pretty hard to explain what her needs were and to ask him to meet them, and he seems to have been completely oblivious and/or uninteresting in doing so. Obviously cheating is bad, but in this relationship I definitely feel much worse for her than for him. I am glad she got out of her abusive relationship with the author and hope she is happy in her new one.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    I don't know why I finished this novel when I had to struggle through it especially the beginning. If Carrere has limited the novel to his film making in Russia, it would have been more interesting. His love story about Sophie seemed to be that of an adolescent instead of a 40 yr. old man. Basically a dark depressing memoir filled with anger, angst and doubt. I don't know why I finished this novel when I had to struggle through it especially the beginning. If Carrere has limited the novel to his film making in Russia, it would have been more interesting. His love story about Sophie seemed to be that of an adolescent instead of a 40 yr. old man. Basically a dark depressing memoir filled with anger, angst and doubt.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    No one writes about love like the French – and this isn't exactly a compliment. I'm thinking of Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain, Annie Ernaux's The Passion and Gregoire Bouillier's The Mystery Guest, but even those depressive tales can't match Emmanuel Carrère's vivisection in My Life as a Russian Novel. "I can't stand being this peevish child who longs to be consoled, who plays at hatred to win love, threatens to leave to avoid being abandoned. I can't tolerate being like that, and I resent you fo No one writes about love like the French – and this isn't exactly a compliment. I'm thinking of Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain, Annie Ernaux's The Passion and Gregoire Bouillier's The Mystery Guest, but even those depressive tales can't match Emmanuel Carrère's vivisection in My Life as a Russian Novel. "I can't stand being this peevish child who longs to be consoled, who plays at hatred to win love, threatens to leave to avoid being abandoned. I can't tolerate being like that, and I resent you for making me like that. Deeply sorry for myself, I sob as you stroke my hair. I feel awful. I detest myself, and it feels good." Carrère's excruciating eroticism is only half this story. The other parts include the making of a grim film about a poisoned Russian town and the haunted heritage of his famous mother's father, executed by the Resistance as a collaborator. "My inheritance was horror, madness, and the injunction against speaking of these things. But I have spoken of them. This is a victory." Maybe this memoir is an act of courage; maybe it's just hyper-literate masochism. It's definitely compelling. Even when I despised Carrère, I couldn't stop turning the pages. It's an astonishing confession, written without even a trace of humor. Caveat lector.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    It is marketed as a memoir and it has the ring of truth. It is not stranger than fiction, but it is strange. These events might have happened; maybe some of them happened or they happened in a different way. There is the story the author is telling and then there is the portrait of the author. If what he says is true, the author wears his self-absorption like a crown. He speaks of his insecurities, his fantasies, his enjoyment in manipulating Sophie and more. He does not see the intrusions he is It is marketed as a memoir and it has the ring of truth. It is not stranger than fiction, but it is strange. These events might have happened; maybe some of them happened or they happened in a different way. There is the story the author is telling and then there is the portrait of the author. If what he says is true, the author wears his self-absorption like a crown. He speaks of his insecurities, his fantasies, his enjoyment in manipulating Sophie and more. He does not see the intrusions he is making on the lives of others. Carrere seems to assume that everyone wants 15 minutes of fame (or at least wouldn't mind having it once the life is public), no matter what the fame is for. The film which is central to this story exists, but does his "ticking time bomb" in Le Monde? Almost anything to do with Sophie, true or not, has a lot that is gratuitously prurient about it. The people of Kotelnich, ashamed of their poverty, duck the camera. Sasha could lose his job over this (and maybe he did). The author has no stated purpose for making this film, several pages deal with looking for a story line. He seems only to want to film the sadness of these people's lives. Despite my concern for the people brought into the public realm like this, I did read the whole book. So maybe there is something to the cruel premise (or so it seems) of the memoir. I stayed with it, even through the humiliation of Sophie (he says he loves her but she will never be able to discuss art and literature with his sophisticated friends, after all, she has a job and cannot be as creative as they are) and the ploys he uses to film the sad people of Kotelnich. It's a side issue, but I was disappointed that Carrere, when he re-connected with Anya, didn't follow up on her statement that the Hungarian POW (who started the Kotelnich adventure) worked in the town and was known by many people. (It's no surprise he didn't care.) In the end, Carrere dedicates this book to his mother. If the book is true (also, maybe if it isn't - or maybe partially true) in regards to his grandfather, is this the book she would want (particularly with its conclusions about her father) as a gift from her son? If you like a sophisticated, sexy, paradoxical narrative, this book is for you. If you don't concern yourself over its veracity (or its potential effects on Sophie, his mother or the people of Kotelnich), it will be a fun, if at times shocking, romp. I read it over a 24 hour period and you may too.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liviu

    This an excellent memoir/novel by Emmanuel Carrere a son of French privilege though a grandson of former privileged Russian aristocrats and Georgian intellectuals fallen on hard times due to the Bolshevik takeover. These are the crucial facts that constitute the core of the book, while the author sure can write superbly. The book has two threads - the author's coming to terms with the fate of his paternal grandfather, a brilliant but misfit Georgian intellectual living in poverty in French exile, This an excellent memoir/novel by Emmanuel Carrere a son of French privilege though a grandson of former privileged Russian aristocrats and Georgian intellectuals fallen on hard times due to the Bolshevik takeover. These are the crucial facts that constitute the core of the book, while the author sure can write superbly. The book has two threads - the author's coming to terms with the fate of his paternal grandfather, a brilliant but misfit Georgian intellectual living in poverty in French exile, disappeared and presumably shot as a German collaborator by the French resistance after the liberation of Bordeaux in 1944, event that defined his mother - a current bigwig in France's exclusive intellectual circles who still cannot accept the truth in some ways - and the author's profound love story with a beautiful younger girl of inferior social class - France still being a very class based society except that the new aristocrats are the elite bureaucrats like the (in)famous "droit de seigneur" DSK and intellectuals - girlfriend who resents his "my stuff is important, yours is not" that the elitist Carrere exudes daily, though still loving him profoundly. An unsparing look at the privileged class' emotional insecurities and a very well written book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    LD

    Favorite quotes from this book: "I can't stand being this peevish child who longs to be consoled, who plays at hatred to win love, threatens to leave to avoid being abandoned. I can't tolerate being like that, and I resent you for making me like that." page 229 "How nice that would be! And how easy, if we decided to do that! But I know myself too well: before long I'd begin to worry that my jealous and possessive middle class girlfriend was cutting me off from everything and turning me into a prov Favorite quotes from this book: "I can't stand being this peevish child who longs to be consoled, who plays at hatred to win love, threatens to leave to avoid being abandoned. I can't tolerate being like that, and I resent you for making me like that." page 229 "How nice that would be! And how easy, if we decided to do that! But I know myself too well: before long I'd begin to worry that my jealous and possessive middle class girlfriend was cutting me off from everything and turning me into a provincial old fart." page 231 "I would like us to have a second first time." page 236 "On the contrary he speaks of his remorse saying he truly loved her but that did not learn how to love her as she deserved. He says that when we're sure we have something, we replace it, only crying once we've lost it." page 255 "I learned that I had lost her and that I had arranged to lose her without wanting to, but that was even worse than doing it on purpose." page 266

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lucie

    This book was interesting and refreshing, up until he starts talking about the porn story he wrote for his girlfriend. And that goes on and on and it got me pretty bored, I started to skip sections of the text until I eventually just stopped reading the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emmapettitt

    There are some great bits in this book - the parts in Russia and about the film are good, and feel true (it's supposed to be a diary). The parts about his girlfriend do not - possessive, spiteful, spoilt - can this really be a grown-up? Maybe it's too male for me? Disappointing. There are some great bits in this book - the parts in Russia and about the film are good, and feel true (it's supposed to be a diary). The parts about his girlfriend do not - possessive, spiteful, spoilt - can this really be a grown-up? Maybe it's too male for me? Disappointing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    I think my attraction to the writings of the contemporary French writer Emmanuel Carrère has come to an end—and just as the New York crowd has begun to embrace him (judging from both NYRB and NYT). The question his work raises for me is this: how far can autobiographical writing go before it becomes exploitative and even obscene? Not all of us will draw the line in the same place, but I suspect all of us will draw a line somewhere. Carrère has always used those around him, even those with whom h I think my attraction to the writings of the contemporary French writer Emmanuel Carrère has come to an end—and just as the New York crowd has begun to embrace him (judging from both NYRB and NYT). The question his work raises for me is this: how far can autobiographical writing go before it becomes exploitative and even obscene? Not all of us will draw the line in the same place, but I suspect all of us will draw a line somewhere. Carrère has always used those around him, even those with whom he has an intimate relationship, as subjects of his writing. This is not the slightest bit unusual, nor is the tendency to carry such a “writerly practice” to a highly successful extreme (think Karl Ove Knausgard, for example). But it can become off-putting, at least I think, when these “others” are little more than props in the central narrative, which is all about “me” and “my fascinating psychological struggles.” Indeed, would anyone other than the most desperate for attention dare take the risk of opening up to this man? Okay, I know I am sounding a bit moralistic with all this, but I don’t really care to know just how much someone else adores the author’s genitals—at least, not now . . . in my old age. So, in brief, “My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir,” like Carrère’s highly controversial short story, written a decade ago for “Le Monde,” upon which much of “My Life as a Russian Novel” is drawn, went just a bit too far for my tastes. I guess all of us are doomed in one way or another to push our “one good idea,” and much of Carrère’s narrative art does carry a good idea, to the point that it becomes sad self-parody. So, comrades, on to something else!

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

    The rather polarized response to this book fascinates me. One of the first reviews I read questions the honesty of the author (it's a fucking memoir!) time and again. Many others lambaste him for his honesty - because he is selfish, brash, inconsiderate, given to bouts of the erotic that must for some verge on lewdness. In considering these critiques, I can't help but be reminded of Carrere's countryman Michel Houellebecq, whose book Elementary Particles is the most hotly debated title I've ever The rather polarized response to this book fascinates me. One of the first reviews I read questions the honesty of the author (it's a fucking memoir!) time and again. Many others lambaste him for his honesty - because he is selfish, brash, inconsiderate, given to bouts of the erotic that must for some verge on lewdness. In considering these critiques, I can't help but be reminded of Carrere's countryman Michel Houellebecq, whose book Elementary Particles is the most hotly debated title I've ever discussed, on similar topics and accusations. This is a book about no less than 3 very interesting situations in one man's life. Central themes include love, family and art, though it's mostly about man vs. the self, the handling of which seems to rile up some readers. The fact that the man at the center of it is a talented writer capable of intense self-examination makes for a pretty gripping read, whether you like him or not. 3 stars because while the writing is engaging and the characters are curious, Carrere doesn't make much develop out of the at least 3.5 engaging storylines. I expect better from Carrere, and look forward to reading more of his work soon. For unacquainted readers I would recommend reading his interview in The Paris Review Issue 206, this is what brought me to his work.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kasia M

    I have found it very difficult to finish this book. The main character, very relatable at first, reveals himself completely throughout the book - the process, no matter how masterfully put together by Carrère, is very painful and leaves the reader with an aftertaste that I think you can only compare to what you feel in the morning after too much cheap Cabernet Sauvignon. I've read in the reviews that there are three main plots in this book - the Hungarian prisoner of war, rediscovering the histor I have found it very difficult to finish this book. The main character, very relatable at first, reveals himself completely throughout the book - the process, no matter how masterfully put together by Carrère, is very painful and leaves the reader with an aftertaste that I think you can only compare to what you feel in the morning after too much cheap Cabernet Sauvignon. I've read in the reviews that there are three main plots in this book - the Hungarian prisoner of war, rediscovering the history of the main character's grandfather and his relationship with his partner, Sophie. And while technically that is all true, for me there is just one story line here - the main character, Emmanuel and his relationship with all the people and places around him. No one and nothing exists if it's of no meaning to his goals or thought process. The perfect example here is how you get to know Emmanuel's mother - firstly (and most intimately) through her role in discovering the missing grandfather's history. Later on, she's reduced to how the main character will be in mourning once she dies or the almost oedipal relationship when Emmanuel was 6 or 7. This egomaniac motive is applied to his time spent in Russia, his friends and, most of all, his partner, Sophie. What starts off as a tale of a Frenchman in provincial Russia, ends as study of an individual so focused on his existence and well-being, that he himself, regardless of the time spent analysing his inner self, fails to notice that he is the one to be blamed for all the misgivings in his life. Now, regardless of how despicable Emmanuel is, this is a splendid read. There's a perfect balance between the introspections and events, the pace and locations keep you on your toes, the insights into Emmanuel's personality always surprising. To my mind, either Carrère is a great writer or Emmanuel is his alter ego and the author is conducting an exhibitionistic exercise. Either way, I need to read more of Carrère's work.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Billie

    He is so self-involved he has no consideration for either of the women in his life for whom who he publicly publishes letters. He shows open disdain for the middle class, but makes no case for the privileged class being in any way better. He comes off as a hypocritical double-standarded sexist with, despite his honesty in describing how awful he is, no apparent understanding of how awful he is. The sex story he seemed so proud of was eye-rollingly juvenile. He criticizes a critic for being too i He is so self-involved he has no consideration for either of the women in his life for whom who he publicly publishes letters. He shows open disdain for the middle class, but makes no case for the privileged class being in any way better. He comes off as a hypocritical double-standarded sexist with, despite his honesty in describing how awful he is, no apparent understanding of how awful he is. The sex story he seemed so proud of was eye-rollingly juvenile. He criticizes a critic for being too inclined to look down on others, but he himself seems to look down on everyone. I liked "The Moustache" and "Class Trip," and I like the TV show "The Returned" for which he wrote several episodes, but after reading this memoir I absolutely hate him as a person.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sandrine Legal

    I was not prepared to love A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrère so much, but here I am, re-reading my favourite excerpts, at a loss about which book to pick up next that could somehow measure up to this brutal autobiographic masterpiece... And I could have missed it, just because I was put off by the title! (Why exactly I don't know, I imagined it was about russian politics for some obscure reason). There is an awful lot of reality in this so-called novel, how hard reality bites when plans are mad I was not prepared to love A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrère so much, but here I am, re-reading my favourite excerpts, at a loss about which book to pick up next that could somehow measure up to this brutal autobiographic masterpiece... And I could have missed it, just because I was put off by the title! (Why exactly I don't know, I imagined it was about russian politics for some obscure reason). There is an awful lot of reality in this so-called novel, how hard reality bites when plans are made to control it. A lot of honesty in a beautifully crafted narrative.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    The most remarkable quality of this memoir is the elegant, light-handed way that Carrere weaves together the many threads of his story. The book asks serious questions about relationship and ethics without ever seeming to do so.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karo

    2 stars based on the second half of the book, which was a complete letdown. Nobody. Cares. About. Your. Girlfriend. And. Her. Breasts. Honestly. (At least he did not succeed with the Russian studies. That makes me feel a bit better...)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ciccito

    Let's talk about Carrere's ego and emmanuel's mother dissapointment. Let's talk about Carrere's ego and emmanuel's mother dissapointment.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Baswood

    I have never read a book quite like Carrière's [Un roman russe], the book's title leads the reader into thinking it is a novel when in fact it is an autobiography of a three year period in the life of the author. Sometimes written in the first person sometimes in the second person, with extracts from other works that Carriere had published; a letter to his mother rounds off the enterprise which also includes attempts to learn the Russian language and a lullaby to someone else's baby. The book ca I have never read a book quite like Carrière's [Un roman russe], the book's title leads the reader into thinking it is a novel when in fact it is an autobiography of a three year period in the life of the author. Sometimes written in the first person sometimes in the second person, with extracts from other works that Carriere had published; a letter to his mother rounds off the enterprise which also includes attempts to learn the Russian language and a lullaby to someone else's baby. The book can certainly play with the readers head and all the time this reader was wondering about how reliable a witness, is Carrière: especially when talking about the size of his cock. A well renowned author writing about himself may try and disguise the egoist in the process: Carrière cannot be accused of hiding his light under a bushel, as the most important person in Carrière's world is Carriere himself. This may be difficult to avoid if much of what you are writing about is an analysis of your feelings, however some readers may find this so annoying, that they cannot engage with the book, I found my patience stretched at some points, but in the end I enjoyed the journey. There are a number of things going on in Carriere's life (if there were not the book would be a little boring). He is in a new and erotic relationship with the girl of his dreams, he is trying to come to terms with the unspoken shame in the family of his maternal grandfather, who was probably shot for collaboration with the Germans in 1944: his mother a successful politician seems to avoid any discussion on the subject. He has become interested in an Hungarian patriot who was captured by the Russians (again in 1944) and spent over 50 years in captivity before being repatriated. He travels to the village of Koltelnitch to find out more with a small team and involves himself in the life of the village, with a view of writing a book or making a film; he makes three or four trips. He has also been commissioned by the newspaper Le Monde to write a novella and he chooses to write an erotic piece based on his own experiences with his girlfriend. This unsurprisingly does not bode well with Sophie his new partner who says to him. "It is the fault in you because you have never been capable of seeing anything, but your own point of view" Carrière does not flinch from putting across his own point of view, which more often than not is based on his own selfish needs. He does not ask for the reader's sympathy, as he explains the way he feels during his tempestuous relationship with his partner and his difficult relationship with his family. The sections of the book are interwoven skilfully to form a coherent narrative. I particularly liked the descriptions of life in the poor Russian village, the fear of the people living under a regime where people can disappear, and the struggles of the author's team in making headway with their investigation. The characters that emerge are drawn from real life and there is another story to be told that makes the journey worthwhile. The difficulties and emotional drain suffered by Carriére in his relationship with Sophie, which seems to be based on sexual attraction and not much else is also well drawn. The extract from his erotic novel, which caused some criticism from the newspaper's own critics, would have been better left out of this book in my opinion and did not encourage me to seek it out. It may be difficult to look beyond the ego-trip that is undoubtedly part of this book. Carriére is not self effacing and Sophie's criticism of him is strikingly apt. The raw information and evidence of his thoughts and actions are there for all to see and the fragility of his wants and needs can be gleaned from his prose, which never lets him down. He tells it all like he thinks it is and as readers we can piece together a fascinating exercise in autobiographical writing. He does not ask us to like him, but I get the impression this book may have served some sort of purpose for the author and it dragged me along with it - 4 stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tadzio Koelb

    From my review in the TLS: Much about A Russian Novel by French journalist, writer and director Emmanuel Carrère is misleading on its face. First of all, it seems it isn’t a novel, but a memoir. Russia is in the title because of a documentary Carrère films there and the fact that his grandfather was a Georgian immigrant. A Russian Novel is otherwise very unlike a Russian novel: it is not structured to raise the intense moral questions about reason, free will, and spiritual identity most people eq From my review in the TLS: Much about A Russian Novel by French journalist, writer and director Emmanuel Carrère is misleading on its face. First of all, it seems it isn’t a novel, but a memoir. Russia is in the title because of a documentary Carrère films there and the fact that his grandfather was a Georgian immigrant. A Russian Novel is otherwise very unlike a Russian novel: it is not structured to raise the intense moral questions about reason, free will, and spiritual identity most people equate with the term, and Carrère himself demonstrates none of the sense of Russian exceptionalism shared by expatriates across the political spectrum in, say, Under Western Eyes. Carrère’s grandfather looks set to play a central role, at first: it is an open family secret and the source of much shame that he collaborated with the Nazis and disappeared during the Liberation. The jacket copy calls Carrère’s retelling of this story the “pursuit” of an obsession, but this suggests something more than the passivity with which Carrère rolls out the family legend, making no effort to explore further than a shoebox of old letters – hardly the investigative vigour one might expect from a journalist. Pursuing an obsession requires scrutiny; anything less is just obsessing. These aren’t necessarily mistakes, however: they are more likely part of the pattern of emotional insincerity and delusion that are at the centre of this fascinating, troubling confession about Carrère’s relationship with his lover, Sophie. Carrère is sophisticated, privileged (his mother is a member of the Academie Française), and successful, but suffers, like many egoists, from low self-esteem. Sophie is beautiful but simple, and even less confident than Carrère, using him to fill a space that should be occupied by her own sense of self. The couple are passionate and volatile: when apart, they have intense phone sex, then cheat on each other. In a sense, though, Carrère is always cheating on Sophie, because he can think of no one but himself. He hopes that she will fail him so that he can deride her for her failure and indulge in childish pouting while she begs for forgiveness. The scene is deeply but fleetingly satisfying; to repeat it becomes an addiction. He wants to be loved even if he is horrible. To be sure, he must become the most horrible man possible. Asked to write a short story for Le Monde, he publishes a puerile 8000-word dirty letter to Sophie. He is so filled with self-regard (he believes it will “make all women wet”) that her failure to read it is an unforgivable sin for which he punishes her ceaselessly. Although they have both been unfaithful, it is Sophie who must make the concessions – leaving a man who has offered to marry her and aborting his child – with no security or even forgiveness offered in exchange. The heart of the book is the repetition of this behaviour in various ways and degrees across all levels of the author’s life. If his self-absorption is shocking – and at times shockingly repetitive – it’s also mesmerizing, all the more so since Carrère doesn’t ask for understanding, much less forgiveness; he simply gives the facts of his increasingly unpleasant behaviour while describing with skill the unwitting accessories to and victims of his offences and the varied backdrops (the Paris art world, backwater Russia, a Greek island) against which they take place. If A Russian Novel is in any way unsatisfying, it is because we never really learn how Carrère exits the fortress of self-pity he has constructed for himself. We are informed abruptly at the end of this “novel” that he is in a new relationship, and that all is well. The ghost of his grandfather is rather suddenly laid to rest. Readers can hope at least that Carrère is right, that he’s a new man leading a new life, and that he won’t one day find himself repeating the words of another creative egoist, Serge Gainsbourg: “J’ai tout reussi sauf ma vie.”

  20. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    I got interested in this memoir after reading Carrere's later book, THE KINGDOM, in which he obsessively tries to reconstruct the truth of the written accounts of Christ in the New Testament. It was marked by a mixing of his personal life with the search for some kind of certainty about what happened in those early years after Christ's death. In his personal life he tries to resolve some of his many doubts. A good attempt with both, but he never quite succeeds. This same type of quest is found i I got interested in this memoir after reading Carrere's later book, THE KINGDOM, in which he obsessively tries to reconstruct the truth of the written accounts of Christ in the New Testament. It was marked by a mixing of his personal life with the search for some kind of certainty about what happened in those early years after Christ's death. In his personal life he tries to resolve some of his many doubts. A good attempt with both, but he never quite succeeds. This same type of quest is found in this memoir where he is simultaneously trying to resolve his tortured relationship with his lover, establish what might have happened to his grandfather who disappeared at the end of World War II, find out why an Andre Tomas who spent 50 years as a Soviet prisoner refuses to talk on his release, and make a documentary film about Kotelnich, a small nondescript city in Russia. Four stories are going on more or less simultaneously, and some of them are more interesting than others. I thought he went on much too long about his anguished relationship with his lover, made up of suspicion, jealousy, anger, reconciliation, and estrangement. I didn't care that much about his personal life, and Carrere even seems to be aware of this when he writes, "How far may writers go in exposing those close to them to public scrutiny, sacrificing them for their own pleasure . . . I wonder if writing for me, always comes down to killing someone." My reaction was that Carrere could spare me his emotionally dramatic roller-coasters Of more interest was the story of Andre Tomas' lost life, a Hungarian who was captured by the Soviets during the war and held a prisoner for 50 years, ending up in a psychiatric hospital in the city of Kotelnich, 500 miles east of Moscow. He never learned Russian and refuses to talk to interviewers when he is finally released. Carrere travels to Kotelnich to make a documentary film about Tomas, but doesn't get very far so changes direction and decides to make a film about Kotelnich itself? Why? To capture the feeling of life in provincial Russia. But people are initially suspicious and uncooperative, and it takes time to overcome these attitudes. Besides, this town isn't very interesting, at least at first, but he discovers a woman who speaks French, and this gives him a entry into the town's life. But he still doesn't know quite where the documentary film might go, so he stays on for several month seeing where events will lead him. Eventually, a horrible murder occurs, and he's led where he would rather not have gone. The fourth element in this memoir is an attempt to find out why his grandfather, a Russian emigre to France after World War I, and an interpreter in World War II, disappeared. There isn't much to go on, and his mother doesn't look favorably on his efforts to dig up the family past. The memoir ends in a lot of frustration. Carrere concludes by saying, "I'll go on living and struggling." It's interesting reading, and certainly held my attention, but in the end, I was frustrated as well. Maybe, like Carrere, I wanted more certainty, more resolution than just to find that life is messy and random. Maybe I was looking for the order that only a work of fiction could create out of these experiences.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cherise Wolas

    This is the fourth Carrere book I've read. It's fascinating and compelling although Carrere, the man, comes off as self-absorbed and sometimes cruel. There are at least three strands in this memoir: the true story of the supposed last WW II soldier, a Hungarian who spent 54 years in a Russian mental hospital in a tiny Russian town called Kotelnich, who is at long last discovered and returned to Hungary; the mysterious disappearance from Bordeaux, France after WW II of the writer's grandfather, w This is the fourth Carrere book I've read. It's fascinating and compelling although Carrere, the man, comes off as self-absorbed and sometimes cruel. There are at least three strands in this memoir: the true story of the supposed last WW II soldier, a Hungarian who spent 54 years in a Russian mental hospital in a tiny Russian town called Kotelnich, who is at long last discovered and returned to Hungary; the mysterious disappearance from Bordeaux, France after WW II of the writer's grandfather, who had ostensibly been a translator for the Germans, but obviously in some way a collaborator too, and he had to have known what was happening to the Jews. That disappearance and the reasons for that disappearance have long been kept a secret (at least what Carrere and his family have been able to figure out about it, which isn't very much) from most of the world, and it's a secret that has brought a generational gloom to the family; and the writer's love affair with Sophie. Carrere has wanted to re-learn Russian, because he thinks if he can, he'll figure something out about himself, and with the Hungarian's discovery in Kotelnich, he has an idea of writing about it or filming the Hungarian, gets funding to make a film and goes there with a crew. The most fascinating parts have to do with the Hungarian and Kotelnich, and yet the Hungarian is quickly lost in the narrative, which was disappointing. What happened to him, I wanted to know, does he ever start really talking, what is his life like with his siblings he hasn't seen in more than 5 decades? Kotelnich as a town, what a bleak place, it's the kind of place no Russian goes to either. Poverty, alcoholism, the local FSB agent, etc. The interactions Carrere and his film crew have there and the light they shine on that culture are interesting, and the shocking deaths that occur there, well, one can't look away, but I wanted to know more. The larger middle section that ends up dominating the book revolves around Carrere and his girlfriend Sophie, their relationship, can he love her the way she needs to be loved, does she love him enough to be willing to stand the uncertainty. It was intriguing for a while - like watching a car crash - and it's hard not to be impressed that he set himself out so nakedly, because he comes off not at all well. Still, I found myself unable to stop reading.

  22. 5 out of 5

    chiara

    i don't know why did i choose to reread this: this book is a mess in every aspect. it's a mess, disorganized, almost jumbled in its desperate attempt at tackling way too many themes, and, despite the remarkable style, carrère writes in a stream of consciousness-esque way, following the train of his frantic thoughts. i also realised that carrère annoys me in a way no one else has, with his unbeliavable arrogance and his haughtiness and his thinking that he's better than anyone else and his consta i don't know why did i choose to reread this: this book is a mess in every aspect. it's a mess, disorganized, almost jumbled in its desperate attempt at tackling way too many themes, and, despite the remarkable style, carrère writes in a stream of consciousness-esque way, following the train of his frantic thoughts. i also realised that carrère annoys me in a way no one else has, with his unbeliavable arrogance and his haughtiness and his thinking that he's better than anyone else and his constant denigration of people, including his own fucking girlfriend. what i know is that this book broke my heart more than once. what i know is that i found myself in carrère's anguish and his fears and his lack of trust towards the people he loves. whay i know is that a terrible feeling of loneliness, of helpnessness permeate this book, a reflection on how fleeting life actually is. there are some books that just find you.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I almost gave this book 5 stars because it was, honestly, amazing. I felt strange, however, about giving high marks to such intense self-obsession. There's a set-up for sexual harassment on a train that, as a woman, I didn't love. Recently I read a memoir "On the Noodle Road" written by an American woman. It also featured some heavy thinking about relationships. As I recall, the introduction gives the reader a great deal of thoughtful context for the writer's life. This memoir, by a French man, p I almost gave this book 5 stars because it was, honestly, amazing. I felt strange, however, about giving high marks to such intense self-obsession. There's a set-up for sexual harassment on a train that, as a woman, I didn't love. Recently I read a memoir "On the Noodle Road" written by an American woman. It also featured some heavy thinking about relationships. As I recall, the introduction gives the reader a great deal of thoughtful context for the writer's life. This memoir, by a French man, plunges right into a sex dream about a threesome. There is a lot of sex in this memoir, which the author wrote for his mother. There is also a lot of navel-gazing, philosophizing, tracing of challenging family history, somewhat random seeming repeated trips to Russia and tragedy. This took a while to get into, but became fascinating. And the author does seem to recognize his self-fascination even while indulging it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rita Reese

    I find myself wondering if a woman had written something along these lines, if it would find much of an audience. Perhaps an unfair question, but I pretty much wish I hadn't kept reading past that moment. The author desperately needs to be seen and his long-suffering girlfriend seems to appeal to him primarily for the additional visibility she lends him. His stunt with an erotic story for/about her in Le Monde showed pretty clearly how he needed to be seen as her lover, and that mattered more to I find myself wondering if a woman had written something along these lines, if it would find much of an audience. Perhaps an unfair question, but I pretty much wish I hadn't kept reading past that moment. The author desperately needs to be seen and his long-suffering girlfriend seems to appeal to him primarily for the additional visibility she lends him. His stunt with an erotic story for/about her in Le Monde showed pretty clearly how he needed to be seen as her lover, and that mattered more to him than her actual life. By the time we get to the end and the flashback to his mother watching him swim as a boy, we totally get that he has mommy issues. I'm no fan of Freud, but you get the sense that it's the limits of his mother's vision--for his body and his desires--that frame his life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kira V

    I didn’t enjoy “My Life as a Russian Novel” as much as the other titles I’ve read by Carrere. In this book, he comes off as a complete narcissist. The way he treats his girlfriend Sophie is pretty despicable. But he writes about himself with such honesty and clarity that the book is a compelling read. The sections that take place in Kotelnich, Russia are interesting. As with Sophie, Carrere looks down on the people from a position of perceived superiority. There are some tragic occurrences as we I didn’t enjoy “My Life as a Russian Novel” as much as the other titles I’ve read by Carrere. In this book, he comes off as a complete narcissist. The way he treats his girlfriend Sophie is pretty despicable. But he writes about himself with such honesty and clarity that the book is a compelling read. The sections that take place in Kotelnich, Russia are interesting. As with Sophie, Carrere looks down on the people from a position of perceived superiority. There are some tragic occurrences as well as some quite hilarious moments and he is able to effectively nail the Russian character.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Kleinman

    I loved this book (you can find it in translation as "My Life As a Russian Novel"). I find it remarkable how he effortlessly manipulates the plot. Key plot themes are raised and then dismissed. It's both personal and political. It's both a study of Russian life in a small town and modern Parisian life. I don't know how he does it. I loved this book (you can find it in translation as "My Life As a Russian Novel"). I find it remarkable how he effortlessly manipulates the plot. Key plot themes are raised and then dismissed. It's both personal and political. It's both a study of Russian life in a small town and modern Parisian life. I don't know how he does it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christopher P. Steele

    This book is enjoyable to read. However, I found myself asking why I read it. I didn't take anything lasting from it. Seems a little self-indulgent for E.C. to examine his very privileged life in this way. He has rich people problems and I found very little of it to be relatable. But I'll keep reading his work because he's a great writer. This book is enjoyable to read. However, I found myself asking why I read it. I didn't take anything lasting from it. Seems a little self-indulgent for E.C. to examine his very privileged life in this way. He has rich people problems and I found very little of it to be relatable. But I'll keep reading his work because he's a great writer.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Early in the reading came an intense dislike for the narrator. In fact, I had to put the book aside occasionally. Towards the end of the novel my interest was captured, violently, brutally. Like a bull brought down at a rodeo. Lots of pain, but life goes on.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mead

    I loved this. Writing down my thoughts, a week after reading it, I'm mostly left with the feeling of wanting to read more of Carrère's work. Even the most minute aspects of the novel I found interesting, and I like how honest he was with him. Or what i perceived as honesty. I loved this. Writing down my thoughts, a week after reading it, I'm mostly left with the feeling of wanting to read more of Carrère's work. Even the most minute aspects of the novel I found interesting, and I like how honest he was with him. Or what i perceived as honesty.

  30. 4 out of 5

    D. F. Salvador

    Interesting opening but became virtually unreadable about a quarter of the way into it. It's lacking a narrative thread to tie the rambling together. Interesting opening but became virtually unreadable about a quarter of the way into it. It's lacking a narrative thread to tie the rambling together.

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