Friday, January 10, 2020

the brilliant Emmanuel Carrere's "Lives Other Than My Own"

Just wiping away tears, yet again – I just finished the book Lives Other Than My Own, translated by Linda Coverdale, by a stunning writer, Emmanuel Carrère, considered France’s greatest writer of nonfiction. Essential reading. Extraordinary how he is both there and not there on the pages as an authorial presence. It’s personal, the “I” is constantly present, and yet his work is an extreme act of generous exploration of, as the title says, other lives, small lives, yet as big as the world. Wise even as he details his own weakness, blindness, and depression, humble even as he forces himself into others’ worlds to expose them, supremely honest – the book is also about the writing of the book. 

The narrative starts in Indonesia, where he was witness to the tragedies of the tsunami; the reader is pulled in to his story by the force of his skill and purpose as he moves on to the death by cancer of his young sister-in-law. Says a NYT article about him:
Profoundly intimate, historically and philosophically serious but able to cast compulsive narrative spells, Carrère’s books are hybrids, marrying deep reporting to scholarly explorations of theology, philosophy, psychology, personal history and historiography.

The article tells how he could not figure out how to write a story that obsessed him, of a Frenchman who pretended to be a doctor, and who, when his lies were about to be exposed, murdered his entire family to safeguard his secret.

But six years passed, “six years,” Carrère has said, “of my life circling this story like a hyena,” six years during which this very productive writer published only 150 pages. He just couldn’t figure out how to finish the Romand story. Before he put it aside, he wrote himself what he calls a memo about what he tried to do, as a way of getting some closure on the wreck that the project had made of his life and his career. The memo began:

On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting at the school attended by Gabriel, our eldest son. He was 5 years old, the same age as Antoine Romand. Then we went to have lunch with my parents, as Jean-Claude Romand did with his, whom he killed after their meal.
“I’m not an idiot,” Carrère has said about the moment after he wrote those lines. “I very quickly realized that this impossible book to write was now becoming possible, that it was practically writing itself, now that I had accepted writing it in the first person. ... Others are a black box, especially someone as enigmatic as Romand. I understood that the only way to approach it was to consent to go into the only black box I do have access to, which is me.”
What a wonderful way to describe the persona of creative nonfiction writer, especially the memoirist: going into the black box which is me. Have ordered his latest book from the library, 97,196 Words: Essays.

I’m in bed today, not actually sick but not well, with a bug of some kind hanging around, am doing my best to head it off. Last night was triumphant, a joyful gathering of writers eating, drinking, reading, telling the truth with skill and commitment. Delving into the black box that is them.

And there are leftovers for lunch.

No comments:

Post a Comment