A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrere

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A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrere

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Translated from French, this book is a hybrid of part-fact and part-fiction. The author tries to come to terms with several sensitive areas in his life - but does he succeed in his quest?
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846680854

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We meet Carrere as part of a small film crew. One minute they're in France, the next they're in the midst of poverty, freezing temperatures and the utter desolation of a Russian town, miles from anywhere. Carrere back-pedals for the sake of his readers, explaining that he has family connections with Russia. But, as an intelligent and educated man, he also wonders what the hell he's doing here. He's relinquished the comforts of his life in France for what - grey sheets and terrible food. He must be mad.

In fact, the person who is mad - and has been for the last fifty or so years, apparently, is a man called Toma. Decrepit, ill and unable or unwilling to speak to anyone, he is duly released from a Russian psychiatric hospital. A media frenzy (such as it is in deepest Russia) follows and Carrere and team are part of it all. Quite a large portion of the first chapter is given over to Toma. It makes for depressing and unbearably sad reading. It is also extremely moving. The web is therefore spun by Carrere to trap his readers. Well, I was trapped but only up to a point. This book is one of those slow burners. For the first fifty pages or so I was ambivalent. I could take it or leave it. But then I did gradually warm to both the plot and the characters. I did not, however, warm to Carrere.

Carrere's return to France leaves him restless. Even though he has a comfortable life-style, family, friends and a stunning new lover - he's still restless. Let me give you a quote to illustrate my point. When he is talking of his lover he says I love her but I don't love her friends, I'm not comfortable in her world, the world of tight budgets ... I found Carrere to be a control freak. He badgers this poor woman mercilessly throughout this whole novel. He even tries to get inside her mind, her innermost thoughts. I think all of that tells you something of the man. For the majority of the book, I found him to be rather cold, arrogant and impatient with others of a lesser intellect. To be fair to Carrere, he would probably agree with me on some, if not all, of these points.

And then we come to the heart of the story. Carrere's grandfather. The reader is given bits and pieces of his life. A sad, unfulfilled life. Carrere appears to need to put some demons to rest. He makes several attempts. He tries to write about it - as some form of therapy. But does any of it work? And now this poor Tomas character has brought everything into sharp focus. Carrere needs to do something. But what?

This book is all about Carrere, the man. How he ticks. How to relates to others. Given his background where does he fit in society? He spends a great deal of his time thinking about the past and also thinking about other family members. All this thinking could send some people mad. And here we are right back to the very beginning and the subject of madness. This book will appeal to those readers who like to get into the minds - or at least try to - of the characters. For me, there was a certain amount of unnecessary navel-gazing. A contemplative read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

Buy A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrere at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrere at Amazon.co.uk

Buy A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrere at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrere at Amazon.com.


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