Book Review: My Life As A Russian Novel

Travel Books & Movies — By on August 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm

My Life As A Russian Novel

by Emmanuel Carrere

Metropolitan Books, Available August 3rd

Review by Richelle Zakrzewski

Bookstores across the nation have their work cut out for them in finding a shelf for Emmanuel Carrere’s complex book My Life as a Russian Novel.  The book may tout itself as a memoir, but the work is so much more complicated than that. I would describe it as a work of suspense, travel narrative, historical documentary, and erotic love tale. It takes a talented writer to combine so many diverse elements into one book, yet Carrere carries off this feat seamlessly.

The book was essentially four mini plots rolled into one.  The memoir begins with Carrere’s work on a film project in Kotelnich. The project is of interest to him because, like the prisoner being released after disappearing in 1944, his own grandfather mysteriously vanished many years before, and he is desperate to come to terms with his Russian heritage. Complicating his work in Kotelnich, a small town 500 miles northeast of Moscow, is his budding relationship with Sophie, a woman he met two weeks before the project commenced. It is through his musings about this relationship that Carrere’s true character is revealed. Not only is he getting to know his native culture, but he is also getting to know a woman with whom he has very little in common, yet finds parallels with his grandfather, Georges.

A curve ball was thrown the reader’s way when Carrere’s erotic love story to Sophie was revealed. As an attempt to bring their relationship to a new level, Carrere had written a suspenseful story for her to be published in Le Monde. The story was strangely interactive, drawing in passengers on the train from La Rochelle to Paris on the day of publication. I must admit that the story was much too vulgar for my delicate sensibilities, yet it was like the metaphorical car crash that one just couldn’t look away from.

Throughout the book Carrere reveals himself as a complicated person full of anxieties that disrupt his life. Perhaps that was the only unifying factor between the many variances in the plot. Had the book focused on just one topic, like the film project in Kotelnich or his quest to uncover the truth about his missing grandfather, it would have been much easier to hone in on the theme or importance of the work. I wondered what his purpose for writing the book was, what he was trying to reveal about himself, and why did he combine so many difficult elements into one. My curiosity was piqued when he wrote about the characters he encountered in Kotelnich and the details he knew about his grandfather’s life in Berlin and Paris, but I lost interest when reading about his relationship with Sophie. The writing was excellent, but I was still disappointed with this book, rating it three stars.

If you’re looking for a true travel narrative, this definitely isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a multifaceted story about the inner workings of an even more complicated man who is on a quest to uncover his family roots, then this just might be the book for you. Carrere’s writing is at once provocative and suspenseful, quickly making the reader concerned about his strange tale. Fellow Lost Girls will certainly appreciate that.

Read more of Richelle’s work at The Fashion Vagabond

And read more about Carrere’s My Life As A Russian Novel here. Available August 2010!