Emmanuel Carrère has been known and loved for psychologically probing third-person narratives that stretch tautly and tensely through his novels, from The Moustache to The Adversary. While turning that perspective into a first-person memoir may seem as reckless as giving an alcoholic a drink, Carrère is already pouring out the aperitifs with the pornographically personal My Life as a Russian Novel.
The book covers a wide territory, perhaps as vast as Russia itself. Playing off the Chekhovian theme of light and dark, Carrère bounces between his high life as a member of the Parisian literati and his quixotic attempt to film the bleak town of Kotelnich – close to where Carrère himself once had family– for a documentary. He’s also researching the 1944 disappearance of his grandfather and salvaging a relationship with his pathological lover, the latter effort culminating in a story published in Le Monde that he’s penned for her.
After some initial bumps, the progression from one point in the story to the next is a mostly smooth ride. Sentences alternate between the journalistic and the sensual. Moments are painted with a Monet-like brush, becoming more crystalline the further we read. It’s tempting to devour the slim 288 pages in a single sitting, but there’s an awful lot to digest here. And while some readers may get acid reflux very quickly, we’re more than game for another round.