Sunday, April 9, 2017

Emmanuel Carrere's "My Life as a Russian Novel": Audiobook Review

 My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir
I am reviewing the Audible version read by the always elegant Simon Vance. The audiobook's performance, as usual by Vance, is excellent. He relates the erotic content with verve, and the emotional trajectories with sensitivity. He captures Sophie's tone as well as an array of Russian men.

As for this first entry of what has become a growing shelf of "nonfictional novels" by Emmanuel Carrere, the benefits and drawbacks of this format emerge. You feel the difficulties Carrere puts "himself" in, but you also note his privilege, his holidays to Corsica and the coast at will, and despite his claims of working as a writer, the elevated position he has as the son of the esteemed "perpetual secretary" of the Academie Francaise. While his difficulties in love will find a reception among any who have dealt with passion, desire, frustration, and betrayal, whether this immersion into what seems like a description transcribed in "real time" weighs down the book past its halfway mark. It's all quite "French" as well as Russian.

Carrere over nearly nine hours hearing his plaints grows, after a promising start investigating "the last soldier of WWII" in a desolate Russian town, tedious for a listener. Simon Vance's talent keeps the listener steadily aware, but despite his skill, the material becomes interminable. Carrere integrates true to the title his detailed ups and downs in love with Sophie, but as the narrative progresses past his own search for his Georgian-born grandfather in the former Soviet Union, it becomes experimental. Sophie becomes the recipient of an overly clever paean from her lover, and while this is "novel" in a different way I have not found in any other fiction or fact, it serves to extend the complaints of Carrere himself.

It's difficult to feel sorry for him. The climactic scene back in the Russian town is expressed powerfully. But then the denouement unravels as Carrere packs more revelations in, and the book seems to fight its own ending. Maybe it does not want to die either. The Russians often seem as props for his own egotistical compulsions to make a film, to write about this to further his career, and the writer-as-writer and filmmaker-making-a-film setups have long outworn their welcome. Carrere does not appear to be aware of this, except when he admits in an aside near the conclusion: "If this was a novel..." One finishes this due to the dexterity of Simon Vance more than the text from Emmanuel Carrere.

All the same, his brief statements about the Gospels and the setting he shows of Russia, however limited in this ca. 2002-2006 span, makes me wonder about the subsequent installments in what seems to be a successful genre for Carrere of integrating his life into the lives of others. So, that is some measure of success. Carrere himself comes off as preening, but there's no denying his "way with words" and his narrative ambition. (Amazon US 4/7/17)

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