The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere and Linda Coverdale (translator)

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The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere and Linda Coverdale (translator)

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Category: True Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: The Adversary is a tense and unflinching exploration of the case of Jean-Claude Romand, a study of deception and an uncomfortable reminder that we can never truly know what someone else is thinking.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: July 2017
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-1784705800

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On 9th January 1993 Jean-Claude Romand orchestrated a horrifying chain of events which exposed a shocking double life, a history of lies and a breath-taking capacity for deceit. The Adversary dissects the choices and actions of Romand which led to the brutal murders of his wife, children and parents and the attempted murder of his mistress, the impact of his deception on those around him and his sensational trial. Carrère is as integral a part of this story as Romand, his coverage of the trial and correspondence with him whilst in prison form a significant part of the story as do his feelings and response to Romand's justification for his actions.

The Adversary is an uncomfortable read for many reasons. Romand can only be described as a cowardly narcissist who created a double life and misled all those who knew him for almost twenty years. The sheer scale of his deceit, his fraudulent schemes and his disregard for others is staggering as is his justification for his actions. The details of the case defy understanding; it is inconceivable that someone could lead a double life and lie so extensively for so long without discovery. This disbelief is apparent in the interviews with those close to Romand and their grief and anger at such deception is palpable throughout the book. It is perhaps this lack of discovery which makes for such discomfort; it is easy to see how apathy and a desire to remain uninvolved led to Romand being able to fabricate an entire life, to defraud people out of their life savings and eventually murder those closest to him.

When faced with such an extraordinary crime committed by such an ordinary man, it is difficult not to imagine the possibility that such a crime could happen anywhere and herein lies the unsettling truth- such things can happen anywhere and this case is proof that we may never really know someone, even someone we choose to build a life with. It is also disquieting to see how easily a lie can snowball, in this case a simple mistruth took over Romand's life and slowly strangled him. Whilst this does not justify his actions it is easy to see how the initial lie made subsequent lies inevitable and slowly became Romand's reality to the point that, as Carrère points out, the lie became his life.

Carrère's need to comprehend the complexities of Romand's life is tangible as is the need to know what motivated his deception which is understandable given the perversity of this case, which is enough to stir anyone's imagination. That Carrère moved past his initial morbid curiosity and developed not only his knowledge of the Romand case but also his knowledge about himself during the process is a testament to his skill as a writer. He has not remained impartial, as it is not possible to do so, and has honestly reflected his feelings in his discussion of this crime. In doing so Carrère has presented the human face of this case, he has given light and shade and dimension to a crime which could have been confined to the annals of history as merely an oddity to be remarked on and disregarded. The weight of this responsibility becomes evident towards the end of the book and we are able to see the toll of Carrère's relationship with Romand. I can only empathise with Carrère here; the desire to open Pandora's box is familiar to many of us, the desire to see the ugly truth and glimpse behind the façade of normalcy is something difficult to resist.

The Adversary is well written and fast paced and so is an easy book to get lost in meaning I devoured it in no time. This is in part due to Carrère's writing style but also the excellent translation done by Linda Coverdale which has resulted in a tight, sharp tale told with empathy and clarity. The evolution of a double life from an unnecessary lie is so senseless, the scale of the lie and the heart-breaking consequences so incomprehensible that it defies any crime fiction and would appeal to anyone who, like Carrère, needs to know the truth, however eerie, dark and wicked it may be.

For those interested in reading more by Emmanuel Carrère you could try A Russian Novel.

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Buy The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere and Linda Coverdale (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere and Linda Coverdale (translator) at


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